Diabetic Alert Dogs. How do we choose them?
People ask me all the time about the dogs we select and use for our diabetic alert dog program. For me, dog selection is what makes or breaks a service dog program and I spend most days working on this.
Sound, social, healthy young dogs are hard to come by. Harder than I imagined. Maybe I'm too fussy, but thats an area I will absolutely never compromise on. Just as we are not all created equally in athletics or academia or the arts neither are all dogs (they are all created perfectly lovable, but I'm biased) - This doesn't mean we aren't perfectly nice people it just means most of us aren't going to be competing against Michael Phelps. I look for the Michael Phelps, the Abraham Maslows and the Pablo Picassos. I look for the gifted dogs.
Dogs we look for must have excellent health. We test them for everything we can. Health and vitality helps ensure a long career.
We look for dogs with calm, stable temperament, the ones who walk through the crowded farmers market with a neutral confident air, the ones who take the fireworks in stride, the ones who pass local dogs with a perfunctory tail wag and move along. Calmness and sound temperament means even under stressful situations the dog will have the presence of mind to alert if needed.
We look for a dog who loves to be with his guardian. The dog who wants to play ball and go hiking and swim along side you. The one who wants to snuggle up and watch a movie with you, the one who given other distractions chooses you. This bond ensures the service dog will always have one eye on you.
Food drive, this is a biggie for our program. We want the dog that never leaves a morsel and after finishing their meal, lick the bowl, the floor and stare at you as if to suggest you short changed them this meal. We look for the dog that never refuses a treat, no matter how dry nor stale. The one who raids all your coat pockets for the crumbs.
We are developing a wonderful network of breeders, trainers and rescue organizations who keep us posted when they have a dog possibly suited for our program. Without these people my job would be infinitely harder. I probably don't say it often enough, but thank you!
So the next time you see a service dog walking with their handler, know you are in the presence of a special being!