The term “man’s best friend” is commonly used when it comes to dogs, and it is not hard to understand why. The loyalty of a dog toward its owner is something that cannot be questioned. But in recent years, the tables have turned and humans have become more reliant on dogs than ever before – to help save lives.
In recent years, organizations all over the world have looked to training dogs to detect medical conditions in humans.
Research from UK charity Medical Detection Dogs details how dogs have the ability to alert their diabetic owners when their blood sugar levels are too low (hypoglycemic).
Other research has revealed how dogs are able to detect clostridium difficile bacteria – a component that causes many hospital-acquired infections – in faeces samples and hospital air.
Exciting research into Bio Detection by dogs for early cancer awareness is also being carried out in the UK
But how exactly are dogs able to detect human disease?
All in the scent
A dog has around 125 to 300 million scent glands, while a human has around 5 million scent glands. This means a dog’s sense of smell is around 1,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s.
“We believe all diseases have scent associated with the diseases, due to the changes occurring within the body, with different organs expressing different chemical compounds. These scents are evident in breath and sweat,” he explained.
“Dogs have highly sensitive senses and can learn to recognize symptoms from many types of disorders. In our work, they are not taught to react to symptoms, but to scent.”
But of course, these dogs do not automatically adapt to detection of these scents. A great deal of training goes into ensuring they acquire the correct smell to carry out their job.
Train to gain
According to Hendrix, the dogs they train must meet a set criteria in order to become medical detection dogs.
“The criterion ranges from their behaviour characteristics, their relationships with humans (ability to bond and willingness to please), their environment soundness, to their work ethic, motivations, response to reward, etc.”
Dogs4Diabetics uses breeds that have been raised and socialized to take part in service work. The dogs they use are donated to them by Guide Dogs for the Blind of San Rafael and Canine Companions for Independence of Santa Rosa, both in California.
He is quoted as saying that the dogs donated to them are primarily Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, or a mix of the two breeds and that the dogs are trained on a scent collected from a diabetic’s breath or sweat when they are experiencing hypoglycemia.