Spotlight of the Month – Suki the Gluten Detection Dog

I am delighted to announce that my Spotlight of the Month is @sukiepwd! Suki is an incredible gluten detection dog, which means she sniffs food products to detect whether gluten is present or not. I have asked many questions about the process, impact and reasoning behind the breed so I can learn some more information.

What was the training process like for your dog and how long was it?

There are 2 steps to the training process. The first is a daily commitment, carried out by you, the owner.  The second is a weekly session with a specialist trainer. It takes up to 2 years to complete gluten detection training, but it feels like the training continues regularly. We still work on gluten detection, public access skills, and general behaviour. We also need to continually train for new environments. You never know what obstacles you will encounter in daily life.

How has having a gluten detection dog impacted your life?  

It has significantly improved my health and my security. I still need to ask all the right questions to keep myself safe, but Suki has definitely made my life better. People with Celiac Disease need to always read labels, and ask questions when choosing restaurants and food on menus. Having a gluten detection dog takes some of the uncertainty out of the process. She checks all of my food at the grocery store, so I know it is safe to eat. In restaurants, she checks the plates before I eat food so I can actually enjoy my meal.  Prior to having Suki, I would eat, but then live in fear that the food would make me sick because it often did. Finally, she has saved me from taking medicines that had gluten in them. Once, I was sick for 2 weeks after taking 2 pills of antibiotics but now Suki can detect gluten in other medicines and has kept me from taking them.   

Was there a particular reason why you picked this dog breed?  

I had a Portuguese Water Dog in the past, and he was the best dog.  I really love the breed, and I thought it would be the perfect choice for a service dog. They are working dogs so they are happiest when they have a job, just look at that smile!

What was the hardest part of the training process for Suki?

Sometimes she is not interested in sniffing so that is probably one of our biggest challenges. The hardest part of the training process was actually on my side as I didn’t realize that over 50% of the learnings were on my side. The handler can signal the dog to give the answer they want.  In a real life situation, this is not something you want. You cannot train the dog properly without having a trainer train you, the handler.  The implications of a poorly trained dog means that you will get sick if they do not perform. There have been many times my trainer has noticed that my body position or hand movement pushed Suki into one action or another. I would not have known to correct myself without her guidance. It is by far the hardest job I have ever done, and the training process never really ends.

Would you recommend a detection dog if you have severe allergies?  

I have Celiac Disease and not an allergy, so I like to recommend it based upon that view. Not everyone needs a gluten detection dog. Most people can live well without a service dog. If you have challenges after living gluten free for a full year and still get sick despite your best efforts, it may be an option for you. The gluten detection dog is a backup to what you have to do normally as a Celiac or someone with allergies.  It still means asking all the questions, making good choices and reading all the labels. The dog just means that you are unlikely to get sick from eating food with gluten in it.

Will you train Suki to detect other allergens?  

No, I do not have any food allergens.

If Suki was not in training mode, would she be able to detect if you were just to sit down for dinner and you forgot to ask her to check, would she alert you to an allergen?  

No, she is trained to check when I ask her to check, she will not alert if I don’t have her check my food.  She also is not bothered when people eat the food next to me. There are dogs that can be trained to check the room or the air, but Suki is not trained for that. She can conduct a room search for gluten because she was trained to search for hidden gluten. It is just a skill we use for practice and for fun.