About Medical Detection Dogs

Medical Detection Dogs trains dogs to detect the odour of human disease. It is at the forefront of the research into the fight against cancer and helping people with life-threatening diseases.

Our Bio-Detection Dogs are trained to find the odour of diseases, such as cancer, in samples such as urine, breath and swabs. Our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs are trained to detect minute changes in an individual’s personal odour triggered by their disease* and alert them to an impending medical event. We receive no government funding for the work we do and rely entirely on the generosity of donations from trusts and the public.   *Please note, we do not train dogs to alert to epileptic seizures. For seizure alert dogs please visit www.support-dogs.org.uk

Frequently asked questions (Medical Alert Assistance Dogs)

How long is the waiting list for a Medical Alert Assistance Dog?  Once the completed application is received the waiting list is between 18 months and 3 years, depending on individual requirements and the severity of the medical condition.

How many Medical Alert Assistance Dogs do you have? We have placed over 78 throughout the country.

Which conditions do you train Medical Alert Assistance Dogs for? We currently train dogs to assist people living with Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s, severe nut allergy, and PoTS. We will also consider individuals with other life threatening conditions.

What costs are covered by the charity? We do not make any charge for our dogs and during the training period we pay for the dog’s insurance, veterinary fees, medical supplies, equipment, toys, training and food. Once the dog is placed, the client takes over financial support.

What help does the charity need? To continue our ground-breaking work we require donations, as we receive no government support, and volunteers to support the work we do.  You can help by sponsoring one of our puppies, or raising funds to name a puppy, by helping pay towards the training of a Medical Alert Assistance Dog. We also have lots of supporters who raise money through challenge events, details of which can be found on the website. Additionally we need: volunteer socialisers, for puppies and dogs to begin the socialising process; volunteer families who are happy to look after one of our Bio-Detection Dogs on a full-time basis; and volunteer fosterers who will look after our dogs on a temporary basis. We could not continue without our fantastic volunteers who help with fundraising, give talks, do administration (at our training centre and in their own homes) and help with events. To join them do contact volunteering@medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk

Does the charity receive any funding? The charity is wholly reliant on donations and receives no government funding.

Does the charity cover the whole of the UK? We cover the whole of England, Wales and Scotland, and have applications for dogs from all areas.

Where do you get the dogs from? Dogs can be donated by members of the public, breeders, other assistance dog charities and rescue centres. The temperament of the dog is very important (Medical Alert Assistance Dogs should be very “people orientated”), as is a good sense of smell.

Can Medical Detection Dogs train family owned dogs? Sometimes people approach us with a pet dog that is showing signs of alerting to their particular condition. If the circumstances are right we will provide support to the client to train their dog and help the dog to become a qualified assistance dog.

How are dogs trained? Dogs are trained using scent and breath samples collected from the client when they are experiencing an episode. The dogs are trained to identify the unique odours.

At what age are dogs trained? Dogs are usually ready for advanced training and placement with their new owner at around 18 months old, but this depends on the dog and breed as they have to be mature enough to begin the process.

How do the dogs alert their owners? Dog alerts need to be clear and persistent, as our clients often have no awareness of an imminent “episode”. The dogs are with their owners 24/7 and alert during both the day and night. Dogs are trained to alert by either jumping up and/or licking strongly. The type of alert will vary depending on the needs of the client.

How do you ensure the Medical Alert Assistance Dogs are able to get enough sleep when, as part of their role, they often wake at night to alert their owner? Most dogs will sleep between 12 and 18 hours a day.  Active assistance dogs will sleep less than sedentary pets as, it is thought, dogs have a tendency to sleep when nothing stimulating is happening.  Dogs also have a much easier time of scheduling their sleep as they are able to simply shift their sleeping time to whatever time is available. Dogs have sleep cycles in which they experience periods of quiet, restful sleep, interspaced with periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Dogs cycle through the various stages very quickly (15 minutes) compared to humans (90 minutes).  This means that they are well suited to interrupted sleep patterns. For example, if you are at home in bed and at 3.00am someone tries to break in to your house you would expect your dog to react. The dog has not been waiting for someone to break in but has reacted to the event. In the same way the Medical Alert Assistance Dogs react when they smell the change in odour associated with their owner’s medical condition.

How much does it cost to train a dog? The total cost of training a Medical Alert Assistance Dog is £13,000. The total cost of training a Cancer Detection Dog is £11,500 with an ongoing monthly cost of £600.

How accurate are Medical Alert Assistance Dogs? We regularly monitor the performance of all our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs, collating data of the alerting behaviour exhibited by the dog and calculating true alerts and false positives.  The partnership does not qualify until alerting accuracy reaches 90% or above, with a false positive rate of 10% or less. At Medical Detection Dogs we ensure all our dogs are closely monitored for alerting performance, behaviour and their effect on the individual’s health and wellbeing. Our stringent criteria mean every client regularly tests their blood and the dog becomes an additional aid alongside continuous careful management of their condition.

Which associations do Medical Detection Dogs belong to? Medical Detection Dogs is a member of Assistance Dogs (AD) International, AD Europe and AD UK and all our dogs are fully accredited assistance dogs.

Are there any other organisations that provide Medical Alert Assistance Dogs in the UK? Medical Detection Dogs is the only organisation in the UK that is a full member of AD International, and the only organisation which trains fully accredited diabetes alert assistance dogs.

What is Medical Detection Dogs’ view on non-accredited diabetic assistance dogs? Medical Detection Dogs is very concerned about untrained non-accredited dogs being supplied to alert to low and high blood sugars for people with Type 1 diabetes. It has been brought to our attention that at least one organisation has been training and selling these dogs for profit but not providing an aftercare monitoring or follow-up service. How do you know a dog is accredited? All Medical Detection Dogs’ coats carry the ADUK logo and all clients carry the ADUK passport or an official “in training” letter prior to qualification. Non-accredited dogs can be identified by the absence of this logo.

Frequently asked questions (Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs)

Do you use specific breeds of dogs for cancer detection? All dogs and breeds have the capability to detect cancer and crisis situations in humans. However because our dogs screen samples on a carousel we select working breeds with a high hunt drive. Our dogs are a mixture of breeds including Labradors and working spaniels and are chosen according to their ability. It is important that they have good noses and love searching and hunting for toys.

How often do the Cancer Detection Dogs work? They work 2 to 4 times a week for short periods of about 20 minutes in our training centre at Great Horwood with lots of opportunity for rest and playtime. The dogs view their work as a great game that they love playing.

Where do they live? They all live in homes as part of a caring family and lead normal happy lives as pet dogs.

Do you offer a screening service? We do not currently offer a cancer screening service. The dogs work on samples in the bio-detection room at the training centre and are not trained to detect the odour on a person.

What are the dogs detecting? With their incredible sense of smell dogs can detect the minute odours now understood to be associated with many cancers. Cancer Detection Dogs are trained to detect the odour of volatiles associated with cancer cells present in urine or breath samples.

What type of training do you use? Our fundamental training method is reward based and we use clicker training for all our bio-detection work. Dogs are rewarded with a food treat or tennis ball play when they make an accurate assessment of the samples they are working on.

What is your aim? The dogs have the capacity to provide second line diagnostic support for cancers that are currently difficult to diagnose reliably, such as prostate cancer. Our research will also enable the development of more electronic systems using the information that the dogs have told us.

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