The 2012 Diabetic Alert Dog Training Conference
I was privileged to attend the 2012 DAD Training Conference at Wildrose Kennels a week ago. As a professional Labrador breeder/trainer, I came away highly motivated, encouraged and energized. As a relative newcomer to this training niche, I was eager to meet other trainers who had already placed successful DAD dog/handler teams. My hope was to glean from their experience and knowledge base, and to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
I was not disappointed. Rachel Thornton was very gracious, and made a point of introducing me to other trainers that came to the conference. She shared her inspirational story, and the many lessons she learned as a pioneer in the DAD training arena. In the span of a few short years, she has progressed from being a mom without dog training experience to a highly respected dog trainer with deep insight and a passion to help others produce high-quality Diabetic Alert Dogs. Visiting with other trainers, it was helpful to compare training models, methodologies and philosophies.
Getting acquainted with existing DAD dog/handler teams was extremely valuable, and it was inspirational to see those teams in action. Those teams will be valuable resources to trainers like us, and we look forward to benefitting from their own experiences with dogs in service.
I particularly appreciate a discussion regarding use of volunteers who are diabetics themselves. The concept of using these diabetic volunteers to help the prospective DAD make the transition to live alerts makes a lot of sense. This model allows us to proof the dog in advance of placement, documenting the dog’s success with BG logs and the corresponding alerting log of the DAD-in-training.
We spent considerable time (as trainers) discussing appropriate screening of DAD candidates. Integrating a service dog into the already busy (and stressful) lifestyle is not realistic for many diabetics or their families. Not every family is prepared for the level of responsibility or commitment to continued training necessary for a successful DAD dog/handler team. As trainers, we all agreed that proper pairing of DADs and diabetic candidates was crucial.
Collectively, the volume of DAD inquiries we have all received is enormous. In the case of Brooks Labradors, 115 candidates have completed our online Questionnaire in 5 months… Simply screening and following up on these inquiries is somewhat overwhelming. Long term, there may be merit in some national-scale database of DAD candidates to facilitate matching of suitable candidates with reputable trainers in their own region.
We also discussed how non-profit organizations will play a big role in making DADs available to the people who need them. Professional trainers are generally for-profit businesses… which means that to stay in business, we can’t be “upside down.” So ultimately trainers will need to be able to set price-points where they need them to be (to stay in business). At the same time, the net cost to the diabetic needs to be at a level that they can feasibly afford. The only way close that gap is with the help of non-profit organizations.
We’re grateful to Mike Stewart, Rachel Thornton and the staff of Wildrose Kennels for their hospitality. I look forward to building on our new trainer relationships. Collectively we have the opportunity to significantly enhance the safety and quality of life of diabetics and their families. It’s a great job for great dogs, and I left the conference feeling like we’re now networked with other ethical trainers who share our heart to make a difference.
Brooks Labradors LLC