Allergen Detection Dogs

We are able to train dogs to assist clients with severe allergies.

Our first accredited Nut Detection Dog, assists his owner by checking areas for traces of nuts, in particular, peanuts, walnuts and cashew nuts and giving a pre-alert to let his owner know that nut traces are present.  For example, seats and tables she may wish to sit at, computers or laptops she may need to use.  He is also trained to detect nut traces in hot and cold food before she consumes it.

This has had a huge positive impact on our client’s life as her allergy is severe enough to cause her to suffer from anaphylaxis if, for example, she touched a table where minute nut traces were present.  Since having her Medical Alert Assistance Dog, she is now much more confident in visiting new environments, as she knows that her dog will alert her to any nut traces, whereas before, she was very anxious about travelling, eating out or touching anything unknown to her, understandably fearful of suffering a severe allergic reaction.

This partnership and training was very successful and we have subsequently trained an allergen detection dog to assist a different client with an airborne nut allergy – by alerting to the presence of nuts and therefore allowing the client to leave a situation if nuts are present.

We are happy to receive applications from clients requiring an allergen detection dog.  However please do be aware that this particular training is very much in its infancy and although we are very hopeful to be able to train further dogs, we cannot unfortunately make any guarantees at this early stage in development.

Please note that, in the case of the allergy being so severe that it is airborne or where there are multiple allergens, the dog may not be able to pre-alert to an allergen being present before you may react and suffer an anaphylaxis response.  However, in these very severe cases, the dog may be able to give a response alert to an oncoming episode, e.g. this may include fetching a medical kit or pressing an emergency button to alert the emergency services.

Do you:

  • Carry an epi pen at all times?
  • Suffer from severe allergic reactions/anaphylaxis if the allergen (e.g. nut, fish, latex) is (a) is ingested (b) you touch a surface with minute traces of the allergen, or (c) traces of the allergen are airborne (e.g. someone contaminates the environment in close proximity to you, e.g. snickers bar is opened)?
  • Have frequent allergic reactions where immediate action is necessary, this could include epi pen being needed or where 999 calls and hospitalisation is necessary as a result, or where you have to increase your medication to avoid a more severe reaction?
  • Feel that your quality of life is significantly affected by your allergies? – this can be both medically and psychologically e.g. unable to work, anxious about going out or visiting new places, eating out.
  • Remain compliant with your management strategies?
  • Still face challenges despite receiving all the assistance your health care team can offer?

If you can answer YES to the above then maybe a Medical Alert Assistance Dog could help you.

Please do be aware that having a Medical Alert Assistance Dog is a big commitment and involves a lot of input, training and time given from the client and their family. This is in the form of frequent visits and training at the centre, detailed record keeping of all medical episodes, alert behaviour from the dog and also regular home visits and communication with the training team. There is also a need for the client to commit to having the dog with them at every possible opportunity to build the bond between them and to give the dog the opportunity to alert to any medical episodes.  Please do consider this carefully before applying.

Child Applicants

We are training Medical Alert Assistance Dogs for children.  Please note that the process is more challenging for a child due to the fact that children tend to be ‘on the move’ more than an adult. From the knowledge we have gained so far, partnerships tend to be more successful the younger the age of the child, bearing in mind that our minimum age limit is 5 years old.  Success is more likely from 5 years upwards as this tends to be the age that a strong bond can really be achieved, leading to consistent alerting.

Parents of a child applicant need to consider that these fall into ‘team partnerships’ i.e. that an adult needs to take overall responsibility for the dog and that when matching the child to a dog we will of course be bearing in mind the relationship between the dog and the whole family unit.  Therefore, please note that an adult would need to be in a position to care for the dog whilst the child is at school, i.e. not out of the house at work all day, or needing to leave the dog alone for long periods of time.

Please be aware that a responsible adult must accompany a child with a Medical Alert Assistance Dog up until the age of 14 years. Between the ages of 14-16 a child going out with the dog unaccompanied by an adult will be discussed on a case by case basis.

Please also be aware that a dog cannot be left alone for more than 3-4 hours a day.

You may be interested in the potential of the dog accompanying the child applicant to school.  We have had dogs that accompany their child client into school However, this is very dependent on the individual situation, for example the need (i.e. your child is suffering from frequent dangerous hypos at school and the teachers are struggling to cope) and the support of the school and agreement to take responsibility for the dog, toileting a dog etc.  It also does of course take a lot of additional support from us in the way of visits and training with the school and will depend on the suitability of the individual dog to be happy to attend that kind of environment.and is something we would individually consider once a dog was settled and consistently alerting at home first and with careful discussion with the school.

If night-time difficulties are the main concern, you may need to prioritise this over the potential for the dog to attend school.  Getting a dog to consistently alert at night can be more difficult than the day-time alerting.  Therefore, if you hope the dog will alert at night, we would not advise that the dog accompanies the child to school.

The last point to consider before applying is whether it is the right time of their life for the child to commence an assistance dog partnership.  It is a big commitment which involves a lot of input, training and time given from the client in the form of training at the centre, detailed record keeping of blood glucose readings, any alert behaviour and also home and centre visits. There is also a need for the client to commit to having the dog with them at every possible opportunity to build the bond between them and to give the dog the chance to alert to any high or low blood sugars, something that becomes much more relevant and harder to achieve with child partnerships simply because of the big part of the day they may not together when the child is at school.

We have also found that teenage children are not always that keen to input this level of commitment or time with the dog due to being at a stage in their life where they are desiring more independence and time away from other family members. They may be going through big life changes such as going to secondary school or college.  In reality a teenager may not want to have an assistance dog accompany them when going out with friends and so forth. This is a period in a child/teenager’s life when there is lots of transition/change and when they may be making decisions about work or university.  It is crucial that the child is fully committed to a Medical Alert Assistance Dog partnership for the lifetime of the dog.

Applicant Owned Dog Applications

In assessing an applicant owned dog for suitability, as we are part of Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK) the governing body and coalition group for all assistance dogs in the UK, we need to make a thorough ongoing assessment with regards to an own dog’s temperament, character and behaviour and whether they meet the standards set by ADUK. Ultimately assistance dogs will have public access into shops and public areas and therefore they need to behave in an acceptable, well behaved manner and be confident and happy in busy environments.  As an organisation committed to the welfare of our dogs, we must be completely confident that any dog accredited within our organisation, is suitable and happy to carry out an assistance dog role. If you are really eager to pursue the own dog training, it is therefore beneficial to complete the Kennel Club’s good citizenship obedience puppy classes, to gain the bronze, silver and gold awards as well as socialising your dog in as many different social settings as possible to prepare your dog.

Please be aware that we are not able to provide documents or assist with taking dogs on flights, unless the dog is an accredited Medical Alert Assistance Dog, via our training programme. 

In order to be deemed suitable to be placed on the Medical Alert Assistance Dog Training Programme, it is necessary to meet the following criteria:

  • You have been assessed and found to be in need of a Medical Alert Assistance Dog using the same eligibility criteria as applicants who will be partnered with a charity trained Medical Alert Assistance Dog
  • You have attended an Applicant Own Dog Awareness Day
  • Your dog has passed a comprehensive public access assessment with a Medical Detection Dogs representative.
  • Your dog is 2 years old or under (unless the dog is consistently alerting in which case dogs up to 3 years old will be considered.)
  • You have submitted a complete Veterinary Form where the veterinary surgeon of the dog in question has confirmed that the dog is in good physical health and be deemed as suitable for assistance dog work (e.g. checked for joint and gait, eyes, ears and heart)
  • You have submitted a copy of the full medical history for the dog
  • You have submitted a complete ‘Applicant Owned Dog Evaluation Form’ and the dog appears to be of a temperament suited to be a working assistance dog, e.g. confident and friendly with adults, children and a wide range of different environments
  • Via completion of 6 weeks scent/alerting assessment records, your dog has a proven aptitude for alerting to a medical episode via odour

 Applicant owned dogs will not be considered for the Training Programme if:

  • due to the nature of our work and the possibility of the need for medical intervention e.g. paramedics assisting an individual following a medical episode, we are not able to consider dog breeds that are traditionally bred for fighting or guarding.  We are also not able to consider any breed or cross breed that is excluded from coverage under standard pet insurance.
  • we do not usually train brachycephalic breed types (short nosed breeds e.g. pugs) due to the fact that they may have impaired olfactory systems and are therefore unlikely to be suitable as Medical Alert Assistance Dogs. There may be exceptions to this where we feel confident a dog is already showing signs of alerting to a medical condition.
  • to comply with ADUK guidelines, in order to enter our training programme all dogs will need to be neutered
  • they have a history of strong herding, chasing or hunting tendencies
  • they have shown aggression or bitten/injured a person or other animal
  • they are being competitively showed or used in agility
  • they have shown significant nervousness/anxiety with people or environmental situations or objects
  • the client is unable to commit to carrying out and recording down training hours with their dog, covering key areas such as general obedience and socialisation
  • the client is unwilling to attend the necessary training sessions, some of which will include handling days at the Medical Detection Dogs Centre, which could include local overnight stays in a local hotel and B and B

Before an Applicant owned dog can be accredited with Medical Detection Dogs, the dog must have:

  • Received a minimum of 12 visits from a Medical Detection Dogs representative in the form of home visits, public access walks, handling days at the centre. One of which should include a vet visit where the dog received a health check before accreditation.
  • Should the client being accompanied by their dog in a workplace or school, additional visits to the 12 would be required, i.e. 16.
  • Have completed 150 training hours, in the form of a combination of Instructor visits and client training hours
  • Have a diary of any client training hours detailing the activities they have carried out with the dog
  • Have been on the Training Programme for a minimum of 6 months
  • Be over the age of 6 months old
  • Have attended an ‘Own Dog Introduction to Assistance Dog Day’ at the Centre
  • Have been observed and witnessed as completing the ‘Own Dog Socialising Checklist’ by a Medical Detection Dogs representative
  • Been neutered
  • Have submitted, comprehensive and continuous data alerting records for a period of at least 6 months, evidencing that the dog is consistently alerting at a percentage of at least 75% accuracy with a false alert of less than 10% and using a positive, suitable alert, e.g. staring, pawing, fetching the kit/medical bag, licking, nudging
  • Been proven in exhibiting acceptable behaviour and obedience for a working assistance dog
  • Have had a comprehensive health check performed by a veterinary surgeon

Due to the waiting times to get to the interview stage of the application process, purchasing your own dog to be trained sadly does not speed the process up. We are happy to assess an Applicant owned dog for suitability, however there are many things to consider before doing so and many steps to go through before an Applicant owned dog would reach accreditation standard.

Before progressing with Applicant Owned Dog Training please take time to consider that as with our own charity dogs in socialising, there are no guarantees that an Applicant owned dog will reach an accreditation level. This may be for various reasons, however any client entering into the process needs to be aware that at any time throughout the training process, it may be halted and therefore it may end in disappointment. You may find yourselves in a position whereby you have a dog who is unable to become your assistance dog, but still be in need of a Medical Alert Assistance Dog. Please also consider that the achievement of the training practice hours, will be carried out by you in the main and therefore, proceeding with Applicant owned dog training is a huge commitment and will require a lot of your time.

We endeavour to be as honest with regards to the potential for your dog to reach the accreditation standard as quickly as we can.

Application process what next?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to the statements above and would like to register your interest in applying for a Medical Alert Assistance Dog, please complete the form here. 

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