Features May 2013 Issue

Book Review: Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog

Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog is a clear, easy-to-read resource for anyone training a dog to alert to changes in blood glucose levels. It offers some general information, such as what it is like to live with a service dog, advice on choosing the right dog, and how to find a qualified trainer. The majority of the book, however, gives step-by-step training protocols with just the right amount of information. It was hard to put the book down; I found it very compelling. I wanted to know: How do you train for alerts? How does a dog learn to recognize the scent? What does the dog need to learn to be able to do night alerts or car alerts?

The authors, Rita Martinez and Sue Barns, are among those who have pioneered diabetic alert dog (DAD) training and protocols. Along with assisting clients in training their dogs, Martinez is a frequent speaker with trainer groups and service dog organizations looking to learn more about training DADs. Barns is an experienced service dog trainer, and the founder of the Diabetic Alert Dog program at Assistance Dogs of the West.

With clicker training protocols throughout, the authors’ positive methods match the positive tone of the book. They recommend that individuals with diabetes work with a qualified service dog trainer rather than try to train on their own. However, the training advice is so clear that even a novice trainer could follow the steps and practice the basics between sessions. And for the rest of us training enthusiasts, it is simply fascinating to learn the steps involved in training a medical alert dog.

One of the things I liked best about this book is the support it shows for the diabetic alert dog, or any service dog for that matter. While showing great sensitivity and respect for the needs of the person, this book is also clear that only a dog who enjoys the job should ever be doing this work. The authors emphasize partnership and appropriate job matches.

The book defines the most important qualities  a dog must have to become a DAD. Among those are that a DAD must be easygoing, naturally resilient, and confident in all settings to be considered for public access partnership (the type of service dog that accompanies the person everywhere). The book also says that it is unfair to require a dog to be in situations where he is not comfortable. Although I would have loved to have seen even more on the actual training for public access, realistically that is beyond the scope of this focused book.

Martinez and Barns bring a combined 50 years experience in dog training – and it shows in Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog. They have written a book that shares their experience and provides a terrific resource for anyone wishing to learn more about the process of DAD training.

This book is available through createspace.com/4157849, as well as Amazon and other book retailers. – Mardi Richmond

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