Service Dog Scientists: The Owner-Pioneer

By January 5, 2017News

Science tells us great things, and often helps us understand why things work. But most of human progress has come from the accidents, the experiments, and the surprised observations of what works out.

Every day I eagerly read the online posts on the owner-trainer Service Dog groups. They are constantly discovering creative new ways to teach alerts to things that medical science says are impossible. These “Owner-Pioneers” consist of professional trainers, amateur trainers, and new dog owners.

The owner-trainers on Facebook are training dogs to react and alert to seizures, migraines, low blood pressure, anxiety attacks, anger, and pain. They are also collecting odor samples from when they have these symptoms, and using those to train. They do not care that they have been told that these things are undetectable by odor. These owner-trainers are unhappy about being differently-abled or sick, they are determined to fight their conditions, and many are often home with time to train their dog. Many have great success, and are happy with their dogs.

Their dogs often are THEN proceeding to alerting on unknown precursors to their symptoms, about 15 minutes or more before symptoms arrive. This helps prepare for a seizure or panic attack or low blood glucose. The result: personal safety and earlier medical treatment of the symptom.

How? Dogs are great anticipators, and can work backwards through many associations.

Be sure to join Martha and others from the Service Dog community on the Martha Hoffman Hearing Dogs Open Forum Facebook group. It’s an open community where dog trainers, both professional and owner/trainers, exchange ideas and tips about training their dogs.

Martha Hoffman is the Training Director for the Hearing Dog Program. She has trained several hundred Hearing Dogs and tested over 20,000 shelter dogs over the course of 25 years. She is the founder and lead trainer at Martha Hoffman Hearing Dog Academy (MHHD) and the author of the highly respected text on Hearing Dog training, Lend Me an Ear.

For instance, we have all seen that a dog might down after sitting, because it knows the owner always gives those cues in that order. In the exact same way, it can notice an odor or other event that occurs before the symptom it was originally trained to alert to. Then the dog begins to anticipate, and alerts when it notices that earlier event.

None of this is “scientific” None of this can be explained YET by science, or by the owners and trainers themselves.

Diabetic alert dog training was at first completely ridiculed by the medical and dog training professsions.

When I was volunteering to help set up the first DAD program in the U.S., the trainee dogs accompanied a trainer to a diabetic kids summer camp where kids are monitored every few hours, 24/7.

After two weeks, when the dogs had alerted and usually been proven right by blood tests, selected the clothing of a child who had had a low from a big pile of other kids clothes, led a doctor into a shower room where a child was having a low…one of the Diabetic-specialist doctors who had been skeptical of this “woowoo craziness”, told the program that this was the greatest medical advance he had ever seen in his lifetime, and that he was proud to have witnessed it.

FIRST comes a discovery. THEN comes research and analysis, by others.

The discoverer has no obligation to provide proof or explanations. The world of Service Dog Alerting is self-motivated, and is rushing along at a fast pace, each persons’ discovery building upon the last.

The US Dept of Defense once discreetly funded two million dollars toward one formal research study of medical detection. Their plan: Identify the chemical the dogs were alerting to, and build a machine to identify it.

That’s the eventual result of amateur citizen-scientists bold and un-scientific attempts. They are the pioneers, and science follows behind to unravel the mystery.

When we “ask” dogs the question, “Can you do this?”, the dogs always answer “Of course we can. Why didn’t you ask that five thousand years ago?”