Where do you get the Medical Detection Dogs?
Some of our dogs come from breeders others from animal welfare charities and assistance dog charities.
What breeds do you use?
We choose dogs based on their character and ability which does allow us to work with a variety breeds of all sizes. Depending on the type of work they will be doing, often gundogs including Labradors, Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels Retrievers and Retriever crosses.
Why don’t you use dogs that have been rescued?
We do! Medical Detection Dogs is always trying to locate dogs appropriate for this work – wherever they may come from. We often have dogs donated to us from animal welfare charities.
What happens to dogs that do not make the grade?
Medical Detection Dogs considers this to be one of their big responsibilities. We may look at other areas of charity work they may be happier doing, let them work as demo or fundraising dogs or find them a caring family home where they can be comfortable just being themselves.
Can people use their own dogs for medical detection dogs?
We do have owners who wish to use their own dogs. This might be possible and providing they meet our recommended criteria we are happy to assess a dog for suitability. However, it is also important to be aware that being part of Assistance Dogs UK, Europe and International, there are standards and temperament criteria that your dog would need to meet to qualify as a working dog.
How are they trained?
All of the dogs are trained with a method called reward based ‘positive reinforcement’. For cancer detection work, they are rewarded when they ‘signal’ by lying down next to the scent they are meant to locate. Other types of work including low blood sugar detection, narcolepsy, allergies and pain attacks are also trained with positive reinforcement i.e. a reward for giving the behaviour that is required.
How long are the dog’s training/working sessions?
All training sessions are kept very short because we want the dogs to enjoy their work and not get tired of it. Training and working sessions are interspersed with play periods and resting. Whatever suits the individual dog and situation at the time. Dogs that work in people’s homes live pretty much like anyone’s pet dog except they have been trained to detect and signal the owner’s individual medical problem.
What if the dog does not want to work?
If it is short term, the dog is taken for a game/walk/rest and tried again another time. If it is long term, we find them a home where they can be comfortable with their own daily life.
Must dogs placed with families remain constantly alert?
No, they live their lives like any other dog as part of a family but alert to that which they have trained to detect. The rest of the time they sit in laps, sleep on beds and play like any other pet dog.
Where do the dogs live when not working/training?
All of the Medical Detection Dogs live in family homes with volunteer puppy socilisers. Unless, of course, they live in the family home of the owner/recipient. Our dogs do not live in kennels as we consider it beneficial for them to remain in caring, family environment.
How old are the dogs when they begin training?
We try to pick puppies that, from the time they are born, are well socialised by everyone in their environment. Most of the dogs we attain as puppies are placed in foster homes at around eight weeks of age in order to learn about living with a family and how to behave in social situations. They are exposed to as many life variables as possible between eight weeks and eight months of age. This includes lots of dogs, lots of people, children, and babies and, generally, anything they need to contend with later in life. So you could say they start learning from the time they are born.
More formal training very much depends on the individual dog. Puppies are assessed as they are growing up as to maturity and readiness to go into more formal training. Some dogs are ready at around eight months of age. Some are not ready until they are around sixteen months of age.
Photographs by Natasha Balletta