Sniffing out disease: Roscoe the diabetes alert dog

While visiting her children in 2017, Janette stopped by the Dumb Friends League in search of a new companion. The Utah resident had been looking for a small dog who was under 25 pounds, friendly, liked children, got along with other dogs and was on the older side. With such general requirements, you wouldn’t think it would be difficult to find a pup, but Janette had been looking for months. It took one visit to the Quebec Street Shelter to find Roscoe.

You know the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” right? Well, our friend Roscoe wasn’t exactly what Janette was looking for at first glance because while he a small dog, he was only 5-months old, but once Roscoe jumped on Janette’s lap and licked her face, she couldn’t say no to him. Other Roscoe pluses included that he was very friendly, sweet and good with children. Janette fell in love with Roscoe from the start and adopted him on the spot.

Roscoe had loads of energy and could be considered a handful (but in the best way). He was a puppy after all. Janette and Roscoe’s first weekend together was a bit bumpy after an encounter with a large dog that scared him so much he was afraid to go outside. Janette was concerned that Roscoe would have problems with larger dogs going forward and since family members had dogs, she reluctantly decided to take him back to the League first thing Monday morning. Janette was emotional during the trip and cried when she spoke to staff. Janette learned that Roscoe’s behavior wasn’t unusual and that given time, he would adjust. Janette and Roscoe left the League for a second time complete with tips on introducing him to the other dogs in the family. “I am eternally grateful for your staff’s help,” said Janette. “Roscoe quickly adjusted and now loves playing with his larger friends. He very much holds his own.”

Roscoe had no training when Janette brought him home (again, puppy). It took three months or so to completely house train Roscoe, and Janette enrolled him in training classes at a local pet store. After Roscoe completed the advanced training, Janette learned about a local trainer who helps to scent train dogs for various tasks, including search and rescue, seizure alert and diabetic alert.

Being a type 1 diabetic, Janette wanted to get a diabetic alert dog, but her research indicated it was expensive and only certain types of dogs can be trained. Janette was intrigued when the trainer said that 95 percent of dogs can be trained to recognize scents.

Janette learned that dogs can be trained to perform various tasks, such as detecting both high and low blood sugars (with a different signal for each) and bringing a glucose monitor or food. Janette and Roscoe have been working with a trainer who charges a reasonable fee, most of which is paid by a local dog rescue service, but the two do quite a bit of work on their own. Janette was interested in training Roscoe so that he could alert her when her blood sugar was low since that is the most critical time for her.

The first step for Janette was to train Roscoe to perform an alert signal that will let her know when her blood sugar is low, preferably one that was not disruptive in public (such as barking). The next step was to train Roscoe to identify the low blood sugar scent, and the third step was to pair the low blood sugar scent with the alert signal.

“After only a few months, Roscoe is now alerting me when my blood sugar is low,” said Janette. “It has taken a lot of time and effort to train him, but it has been very rewarding.” Today, Roscoe jumps on Janette to get her attention and then spins once, so she knows he’s not jumping on her for another reason. Janette advises that an alert dog is not a substitute for a blood sugar monitor but is a good supplement. Once Roscoe alerts Janette, she checks her blood sugar level with her monitor before treating the low blood sugar.

Janette is also working with Roscoe on his behavior in public places. Roscoe is busy learning not to bark, how to heel, stay and sit or lay quietly when Janette is talking to other people. Roscoe’s biggest problem is barking at larger dogs that he doesn’t know, so the two are working on reducing his anxiety. Each day, Janette exposes Roscoe to different situations, which he seems to appreciate since he is so social and enjoys the contact with people.

“My little shelter dog has been a wonderful companion,” said Janette. “He loves to play and snuggle and go for long walks. He loves to greet kids at the park and is very sweet with them. I feel very fortunate to have found him!”