About six months ago we wrote about a gluten-sniffing dog named Elias.

A number of you were curious about how to get a gluten-sniffing dog of your own, and I promised that if I could find out more information I would share it.

So, thanks in large part to a helpful tip from the lovely folks at the gluten-free B&B Chicken Paradise, I bring you an update on this intriguing (and adorable) means of keeping safe.

Elias, the dog from the original article, was matched to his owner Hollie by experienced trainer Susan Bass. Susan and I spoke the other week, and she was extremely generous with her time and helped me understand a great deal about finding and training a dog like Elias.

The biggest take-away from our conversation? A gluten-detection dog is a serious commitment, but one that can be extremely rewarding in the right circumstances. The second biggest? Buyer beware, so do your research before agreeing to anything.

If you were to go to Susan to find a gluten detection dog, here’s the process you would face:

  • Step 1: Submit an application, including a cover letter, recommendations (personal, professional, and medical) and a small processing fee.
  • Step 2: Complete a personality profile, so that Susan can match your personality to the right animal.
  • Step 3: Once the right dog is found, training begins. Most of the training takes place at Susan’s, in Missouri. Here, the dog is socialized and learns to be a service dog. The training for gluten detection is the last step in a line of trainings; it currently takes place in Slovenia, and lasts 3-4 months.

The entire process takes quite a bit of time and money (often between $10,000 and $12,000). At the end, you’ll have a dog that’s ready, willing and able to protect you from gluten – but also a living, breathing creature that needs to be taken care of and treated with love and respect in order to do its job.

Sometimes people come to Susan to request training – gluten-sniffing or otherwise – for dogs they already have. Sometimes this works, but oftentimes it’s less advantageous than starting from scratch.  Don’t forget: this dog will be around you all the time (and will be responsible for your well-being) for the next 7-10 years. There’s no reason to settle for a mediocre dog, and you give yourself the best odds for success if you let a professional take care of things from the outset.

Sound good so far? The next question of course becomes, “where do I go to get a dog like this?”

You can certainly go to Susan herself (caninespecialty.org or usabeaucerons.com), who trained at the Bergin University of Canine Studies. However, if you go elsewhere, be sure to ask plenty of questions. Someone who is well-qualified to train one kind of service dog isn’t necessarily well-qualified to train another. And someone who leads fantastic obedience classes isn’t necessarily qualified to make a match between a puppy and a person.

There is no governing body dictating who can be a dog trainer, let alone a service dog trainer or someone who specializes in allergens – so find out where your chosen trainer studied, make sure they aren’t self-taught, and don’t be afraid to ask to for references. And remember that if the price tag sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What do you think? Would a gluten-sniffing dog be a helpful addition to your family?