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How Do You Train a Gluten Detection Dog?

Updated: May 26

Black gluten detection dog sniffing a glass container with gluten inside

Training a gluten detection dog is a long process, and it is not easy. It takes 18-24 months, and it is not guaranteed to provide success. I recommend working with a gluten detection trainer. I recommend working with a trainer who believes in positive reinforcement and who does owner-led training. (read my blog post on how to choose a gluten detection service dog trainer) There are several and most train over zoom. I recommend Willow Allergen Service Dogs and Wag and Train Dog Behavior & Nutrition.

The time per day varies on the dog, there is behavioral training and gluten training. The behavioral part is throughout the day and is constant when the puppy is small. The gluten training is anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more per day. Often, training sessions are set up in small increments throughout the day. It depends on the dog's attention span and interest each day.

Why can’t I just train on my own?

Although the dog is doing the detection work, so much of the dog’s reaction depends upon the handler’s body position, movements, and just inadvertent signals. Without a trainer advising you, you can easily develop an unconscious signal for your dog. For example, in training, I was moving my hand slightly forward when presenting a package to Suki. That signaled her to alert to gluten. Because this task is critical to my health, I want her to provide accurate alerts independently. I had no idea I was signaling her, and it would have continued without my trainer’s intervention.

Can’t I get a fully trained dog?

You could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. So much of this work is trust and the ability to read your dog. I can tell when Suki is not sniffing well or when she is frustrated or tired. I see these things because I trained her from a tiny puppy. If she was trained by someone else, she would be with them for the first year of her life. I would have to work hard to catch up to her, and I would not understand those signals the same. I also would not have the same bond with her.

Will a gluten detection dog allow me to eat freely anywhere?

Black Portuguese Water Dog Gluten Detection Service Dog wearing a service dog vest and a red flower

Yes and no. A gluten detection dog takes away the worry that you will get sick from something you ate, but it doesn’t make things the way they were pre-Celiac Disease. You still need to know the sources of gluten, read labels, check on restaurants, ask all the questions about the ingredients, how they prepare it, and you still may not have the best food options available. The good news is that I can enjoy my meal much more when I know Suki has cleared it for me. I

have also learned that when I research restaurants and ask all the questions, the food is safer than I thought before I had Suki.

What if I am newly diagnosed and I want a dog?

You need to first learn how to live a gluten free life. You will learn the foods you can eat, how to cook them, and how to advocate for yourself. You need to take a full year to learn, and your body needs up to 2 years to heal (Treatment & Follow up guidelines from Celiac Disease Foundation). There is so much happening in the first year after diagnosis, you will not be able to add training a dog to that list. It is also not the most necessary skill you need either.

After the year has passed, you may also learn that your body has healed well. You may be able to eat out and navigate foods well with your new skills. Most people with Celiac Disease do not need a gluten detection dog. My hope for you is that you can live well without the added complication of a gluten-detection dog.

What best describes you?

  • I am looking for a gluten/allergen detection trainer

  • I am training a gluten/allergen detection dog

  • I am considering training a gluten detection dog soon

  • I am dreaming of a gluten detection dog

Read more about Gluten Detection Dogs from our friend Good For You Gluten Free

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