Updated: Dec 15, 2019
My name is Dawn Scheu and I am the president of O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. I would first like to say welcome. I hope this organization fills in some of the holes that have been missing in the world of service dogs. Our organization’s goal and focus is on odor/scent detection based service dog tasks, the mission of providing science-based education, and also providing guidelines for trainers to follow with standardized testing. By having a standard, agreed upon by trainers throughout the world, you can be assured that the dog you trained is working safely and properly in order to best help its handler mitigate their disability This will give confidence to the trainer and handler that the dog is being trained to high standards. By having our organization in place, detection based service dog tasks can be viewed with a higher level of credibility. I would like to take this opportunity to explain why O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. was created and how it came to be. My background is in canine Search and Rescue (SAR). Working in that field no dog-handler team is ever deployed without going through rigorous testing. This testing is to ensure the handler and dog team are ready and prepared to deal with unforeseen situations, are working safely and working to standards to perform the job in which they are being deployed. It was not until I was diagnosed with a fatal form of celiac that I got into training service dogs. I knew if I could obtain the target odor source it could be trained but to what standard does my dog need to be trained and how do I get my dog certified? This became my first question coming from a background in SAR. There has to be certification right? It is a working animal in the public performing life-saving tasks. Then I saw the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law for the first time. No certification required? No proof of training? No testing that the dog is actually working? Only 2 questions! I thought to myself, this can’t be right. I must have read it 100 times. I kept Googling things, I joined Facebook groups, I talked to other trainers and handlers in the field, I devoured everything on the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) and Assistance Dogs International (ADI) websites. My mind was blown. There was no testing or regulating organization. I want to be clear, I understand the reason why the ADA law is set up this way. It is to protect people’s rights and privacy and allow for owner training. I support this and the reasoning behind it. Unfortunately as it is, human beings will be human beings and not all people have the integrity to do the right thing. These few unethical people will take advantage of lax laws and exploit people’s disabilities. This has lead to many of the issues we are having today with fake service dogs in public and dogs that are improperly trained being sold for thousands of dollars to those desperate for help. I eventually accepted this lack of regulation shaking my head. I trained my first dog Willow to ADI standards, kept a training log for my records, got a note from my doctor (even though it is not legally required) and continued to learn and grow. Over time I have seen many people purchase dogs from training organizations that were supposedly trained to perform tasks that they were unable to perform. One was a peanut detection dog that could not find an entire jar of peanuts on a table in a room. This family paid over $25,000 for a dog that was of no use to them. The dog had no idea even what peanut odor was it certainly wasn’t able to detect it in an environment with everyday distractions. . Another example was a person I know who began training a dog with another company. For her final test they had the dog search for a candy bar in a hotel lobby. This would have been fine except it was a gluten detection dog. If you know anything at all about celiac disease this is useless to the needs of the person with celiac. We live in a wheat-based society- wheat contains gluten. That means that nearly every environment contains the gluten. Most people with celiac can safely be in a gluten-filled environment and they merely need to know if the food they are about to consume is free of gluten ingredients or contamination and is safe to eat. You can not send a dog to search a room full of gluten to determine this. The dog would be hitting on everything if trained to alert and seek out trace levels of gluten contamination in an environment. I helped this person to train her dog to be able to do a Controlled Search TM. To this day, her dog is working successfully for in her in a way that is meaningful to a person with celiac disease. This handler occasionally still helps others train gluten detection dogs or directs them to proper trainers in the field. It was after this experience that I wrote the first gluten detection standards. A Controlled Search tm was a new concept outside a lab environment and had not previously been applied to any type of service dog work until I implemented it with my first gluten detection dog. When I was training my first gluten detection dog (Willow), the first gluten detection dog in the United States and the second in the world, I added in the “all clear” behavior along with her gluten alert behavior. I want to share one more story with you that had a significant impact on me and helped push me to create O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. I began seeing service dog training organizations shut down for unethical treatment and improper housing of dogs. They were being sued for dogs not performing the tasks that they were supposed to be trained to perform. There was one supposed Service Dog organization in particular in Texas that was shut down, that broke my heart.The Texas organization was shut down for inhumane conditions and all the animals at the facility were impounded. The owners who had sent their dogs to this facility in good faith to be trained as service dogs found out their dogs were in the pound by reading about it on the news. I was invited to help via a Facebook group that was created for the handlers affected. The group provided support, guidance, and recommendations to each other. I read the stories from each of the handlers who owned dogs from this situation. They had to find their dogs, did not know where they were taken, or if their dogs were hurt, sick, injured or dead. It took about two weeks to find the dogs and have them reunited with their owners. Can you imagine how that would feel? Over the weeks as more stories came out and dogs were found and reunited I cried every day. I am not going to go into details of the abuse that these dogs endured. You do not need to be crying too. What I will share is several of the dogs could no longer be used for service work due to behavioral or ongoing health issues these handlers had to start over with a new service dogs prospect if they could afford to do so.. A few dogs died from illness in the months after and their owners were left with the heartbreak of losing their canine partners.. All of the handlers were out money that they would never recover. Some left with dogs that would need expensive ongoing medical treatment for months or even for the life of the dog. Some of the dogs were able to be salvaged for service work even after the fear, anxiety, and abuse that the dogs had endured but this left the handlers with the huge task of. trying to find a new ethical trainer to train their dogs, all while still dealing with the feelings of their own emotional trauma and being burdened with the additional costs. I provided the support I could and created a questionnaire for them to follow when interviewing new trainers to give them confidence and the ability to gain as much information possible from the next person they would hire for training services. This experience hit me hard and forever changed how I looked at the unregulated field of service dogs. These stories, among others, sent me circling back to my SAR days and their rigorous testing with an emphasis on humane treatment of animals. It was at this time, I came up with the idea to start O.D.O.R Service Dogs Inc. There was nothing I could do to correct the situation that occurred with the mistreatment and abuse of animals in the training facility in Texas or elsewhere. All I can do is promote ethical science-based dog training, I feel education is the best way to combat this problem and it will take a long time with people working together to change the way people think. I have found that most dog trainers love the animals they work with and want to do what’s best for them and their client. Detection work, however, is a specialty. I wanted to find a way to provide education and help others do it the best they can with the science we have. Now that can make a difference. In the past, most people learned detection from other trainers. Until recent years trainers held these secrets tightly and unless you were in their inner circle, there was not a place to learn. As things have evolved in recent years (when you consider the history of dog training) more and more research studies are being released into the detection dog capabilities and olfaction. The research gives us a better understanding of the amazing nose of dogs and how the olfactory system works, how far a dog can smell, how many scent receptors the dog has, what odors they can detect among thousands of other fascinating facts. There is very little available information out there currently to tell anyone or help trainers with detection experience as to when a finished service dog performing detection tasks, should be able to benefit the handler or how it should work. A working detection service dog needs to do more than be able to search an area to locate the target odor it was trained to find. In most cases in service work, this is not practical or of benefit to the handler. The dog needs to be able to identify the target odor in the public with distractions, and perform that task in a way that is clear to the handler that the item presented is either safe or not safe. Most of the trainers working in the areas of scent detection service dogs often have experience in some other form of canine nose work such as nose work competition, police work and SAR. These trainers know how to train the dog to locate a target odor, which is great but not enough. Often the trainer is left to figure out how to get the dog to perform in a way that meets the handler’s needs and in a way that is effective for the handler and unobtrusive to the public. There are a few books out there on how to train a diabetic alert dog, unfortunately, other resources are limited. As a trainer working in scent detection tasks, you really need to do your homework as often times you will be asked to train an odor that you have never worked with before. When this happens, the trainer with good intentions, wanting to help, takes what they know and experiments with the rest to do the best they can for the client/dog team they have. Sometimes this works great and other times it falls short of meeting the handler’s needs. The trainer did the best they could with the information and experience they had and are disappointed as is the handler when it falls short. Traditional searching methods are not a realistic solution to modern service dog scent detection tasks. This is because most environments where the handler needs their service dog to work will be saturated with target odor. This is where the use of a controlled search is critical. Dogs are presented with items for searching vs. searching a room for the target odor. Using an “all clear” signal was implemented into the controlled search to improve accuracy and to decrease confusion in the dog when no target odor was present by giving them a behavior to perform in the absence of odor.. Now, this method has also been applied to allergen detection dogs as well and is showing to be more user-friendly and useful to the handler than the traditional search that was used prior.
If we look into the types of detection tasks that a service dog handler would need it breaks into three basic groups. Medical Detection, Gluten and Allergen Detection and Finding a Lost or Missing Person. I am a member of a lot of professional dog and animal training, educational organizations but there was little available within them on service dogs and nothing specifically on detection based service dog tasks. I decided we needed standards in each of these basic groups so that trainers and owner trainers could have a goal to train their dogs to. Hopefully ensuring their dogs are working safely and properly. o do the best I could for others, After training Willow I wrote the first gluten detection standards and published them on my website. This was the start of what would eventually become O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc..
Public Access skills is the basis for all service dog tasks. The ADI takes memberships and came up with a public access test that has been followed by lots of trainers as most agree that some standardized testing is preferred. Unfortunately ADI will only allow membership for companies that are a 501-3c nonprofit leaving a hole for all the other trainers running a small business and owner trained service dog. The test criteria used to be available to everyone online to use a guide but ADI took it down about two years ago. The other route trainers and owner train handlers have been using is the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizens (AKC-CGC ) system or other equivalent but these are not set up for service dogs working in the public, specifically, places like grocery stores, restaurants and other places pet dogs are not allowed access. It was only recently that AKC changed the name of the Canine Good Citizen Urban (CHCU) to Public Access Test while the testing criteria remained unchanged is not set up for true service work. There needed to be a Public Access Test for everyone that is working specifically with service dogs. I began talking to others in my field about my ideas and how I felt, things I have seen and read to other trainers, handlers, veterinarians, nutritionists, and scientists. Any professional who worked with animals that would listen. Almost everyone was in agreement with me. Something was needed! To my surprise the more I talked to people who were passionate about the idea and shared my feelings for this organization people started stepping up and saying they would help me make it a reality. It was with the help of these amazing people who were willing to take a leap of faith with me that O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. was born. Over the last three years they helped make my dream their own. Each of them with their own individual experience, expertise and unique skill set in areas of dog training, business, graphic design, computer sciences, nutrition, behavior consulting, journalism, and olfaction research and development. Others took time to film and re-film each standardized test with their own dogs as it was written for all of the beta testing in preparation for O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc.’s official launch. Some of these people are still on the board of directors or committees and some have moved on to other things. While some gave their time by consulting on standards as they were written others helped by answering questions as they were prepared. Some gave support and shared opinions. I want to give them each a special shout out because, without them, O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. would still be nothing more than a dream. They are an amazing group of people who have given their time, put in some love, all of their passion, dedication, and knowledge to help make O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. possible. They’ve helped create an organization that is educational, based in science and has easy to follow standards and guidelines for trainers, handlers and let’s not forget our fur-covered friends that allow us to learn and grow together. Detection based service dog tasks are in their infancy compared to other tasks in the animal training world. There still is so much to learn. We do that through research, learning, and sharing and my hope is that O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. will help foster that environment. . Thank you for being a part of O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. and reading our blog It is our members that are our future. Please share any ideas you have with the O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. Board of Directors so we can be the best we can be. It is united that we learn and grow for the better. We can all learn from each other. From the novice dog handler, to trainers, to the professional scientist working in a lab, everyone has something to offer, everyone matters and everyone is important. Thank You Dawn Scheu O.D.O.R. Service Dogs Inc. President Willow Service Dogs
Professional Service Dog Trainer, Canine Communication Certified
Christina De Juan PhD - Luna Service Dogs Alicia Picon- The Service Dog Life Melissa Cushman- Shadow Bear Service Dogs Jillian Shackley- Creating New Tails Rob Hewings- The U.K. College of Scent Detection Dr. Cheryl Aguiar- E- Training for Dogs Jo Hidler- Assistance Dog Services Stef Roulet- Louvel Canine Cam Weiner- The Celiac Project Hanna Bareihs - Smart S.E.N.S.E.S Dog Training
Katie Jones- SafeGuard Service Dogs
Emma Schuett- Soteria Service Dogs LLC.
Rebecca Haacke- Naga the Gluten Detection Dog