23 Jul A dog like Kevin
This week at Smart Pups…
The last of our talented K litter left us. Last and perhaps you could say the least because Kevin was by far the smallest of his litter, but what he lacked in size he made up for with work ethic and personality.
Kevin is both last and very importantly first – the first medical alert dog placed by Smart Pups since our trainers took part in a week-long workshop by visiting American detection dog trainer Debby Kay. Kevin was placed with his family this week as what is known in the trade as a DAD – or a diabetic alert dog. Thanks to his specialised training Kevin can now detect and alert to low blood sugar levels. For those of us lucky enough never to experience the daily struggle of managing type one diabetes in young children this may not seem a huge deal. But for the families effected a detection dog such as Kevin provides security, reliability, peace of mind and life saving intervention.
I am often asked how medical alert dogs are trained. The answer is with hours of dedication, praise, reward, enthusiasm and repetition. The process begins with encouraging a dog to sniff at a small tin placed in the trainer’s palm. The tin has holes in the lid to allow the target scent to escape. Each time the dog sniffs the tin he is immediately rewarded so that a positive association develops.
Over time, and many repetitions, up to one hundred a day Kevin learnt to check the sniff tin, where ever it was held on the body and where ever his trainer was and what ever the time of day – or night. For Carolyn, Kevin’s trainer this has meant that Kevin moved in with her in the late stages of his training to become used to working at all hours in all situations.
Debbie Kay is pictured here training one of her dogs, and you can see that once the dog recognises the correct scent he won’t move from it.
There is nothing ‘alternative’ or magic about medical detection. It is the same process that is used to train all manner of detection dogs, from explosives and drugs to termites and truffles. A process that requires a diligent trainer who can follow methodical and repetitive steps.
And it also requires a special dog – a dog like Kevin, little in stature but big in heart, willing to work at the ‘game’ of sniff to get his reward and never tire or loose interest at the critical moment.
Kevin, Carolyn and his fosters have been on an amazing journey that ended this week, with Kevin’s permanent placement in his new home. And then on day six of Kevin’s life with his new family came the bonanza moment! Kevin detected and alerted to a low blood sugar level for his child. He had made the connection; all those tins and wheels and endless repeats were aiming for this moment – a live alert in a real-life situation.
The news sent phones buzzing here with congratulations. For Kevin’s new family it marks the start of their next journey, one with a new best friend, companion, guardian and most beautiful medical monitor you could wish for. Congratulations to all involved, and here’s hoping Kevin is the first of many such life changing dogs that Smart Pups can train.