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Service Dog Training Institute


Choosing an Alert Behavior for Your Medical Service Dog

Service Dog In Training diabetic alert and meter

When considering what alert behavior you want to train, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Alerts should be passive alerts. That is the dog finds the scent and indicates where it is without disturbing it. This is ideal for allergens as the handler does not want the dog to bring particles of the allergen back to them.
  • Alerts should be a behavior you will clearly recognize as an indication the dog has found a sample of the allergen. If you choose a behavior that your dog commonly does, you may miss the alert. Choosing a down for a dog that lies down when waiting may not be a good choice. You could add on a specific behavior to the common behavior such as a paw cross if that behavior would be better for the environments you need the alert in. On the other hand, choosing a really showy behavior may draw unwanted attention to you and the dog.
  • The behavior must be simple enough that you can figure out how to teach it to your dog. Having a long chain of behaviors (several behaviors in a row) as an alert can make it harder to train. Capturing a slightly unusual behavior your dog does can be an easy way to train and make it a more natural behavior for your dog.
  • You must decide if you want the dog to alert the allergen at it source or come back to your side and then alert.
  • For an allergic alert, the dog must not interact with the scent as you don’t want her accidentally bringing it back on her paws or fur. If you dog tends towards using her paws, avoid paw-reated indications and the default behavior could easily return to pawing the scent.
  • How precise of a location alert do you need? Does the behavior allow the dog to indicate in a precise way or is a general presence/absence alert more what you need (as in allergens that travel in the air). Traces of allergens can be anywhere in the room from on the floor, on people, on door knobs and handrails, elevator buttons and even in the air (as in an airborne allergy).
  • Choose a behavior that is not going to stress your dog’s body if it will be repeated over and over (as it will be during training sessions). Your dog could easily do 80 to 100 repetitions (or more) in a day. 3 sessions of 30 repetitions= 90.

Here is a list of passive (allergy) alert behavior ideas:

  • sit
  • sit and paw lift
  • down
  • down and paw cross
  • nose nudge leg (or hand)
  • nose touch and hold on leg or hand (target spot must be accessible to dog at all times standing, sitting and laying down)
  • dog grabs “bringsel” (a thin bumper attached to his collar) and holds it in his mouth
  • stand and scratch floor with paw (near but not on allergen)
  • stand and paw lift (point)
  • quiet talk (more of a conversational woo, woo-not barking)
  • beg (sit up pretty)
  • tipping head up (yes nod) or sideways (no)
  • chin on floor or chair holding still towards scent 
  • nose touch held in place without the physical contact
  • spin once
  • back leg lift/stretch
  • kicking with back legs (like after a defecation)
  • rear up and paw (ends up more of a dance where she places paws on my arm)
  • back away from allergen
  • bow and scooting back away from allergen
  • grab wrist/sleeve and lead you away
  • tug on a toy attached to your waist and lead you away
  • physically block you from allergen (stand stay crosswise in front of you that resists your forward movement)

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