The first time a friend approached nail tech Shari Finger about the possibility of her training a diabetic alert dog (D.A.D.) to assist her diabetic 6-year-old son Collin, she was intrigued. Dog training has long been a passion for Finger, owner of Fingers Nail Studio in W. Dundee, Ill., who even trained search and rescue dogs in the past. She discovered that professionally trained D.A.D.s cost anywhere from $10,000-$20,000 and that wasn’t something her friend’s family could afford. “I Googled the subject and found stories of parents trying to train the dogs at home. There was a huge debate about the quality of a home-grown D.A.D. versus a professionally trained D.A.D.,” she says. Ultimately Finger told her friend she was too busy to help.
“Then one night a friend of my friend’s family lost their 5-year-old daughter due to low blood sugar in her sleep. That really affected me,” she says. “I couldn’t get out of my head if that little girl was cuddled up with a dog she would still be here today. And if that could happen to her it could happen to Collin.”
She undertook the project using her experience with search and rescue dogs to train a D.A.D. named Ping. “Search and rescue dogs use their noses to find lost people and are trained to alert the handler that they have found someone,” explains Finger. “Diabetic alert dogs do the exact same thing. They use their nose to smell the biochemical change in the saliva and sweat of the diabetic and are trained to alert.”
So that others can benefit from her accomplishments and mistakes, she has shared her journey training Ping in the book The Ping Project: How We Trained a Diabetic Alert Dog at Home, which can be found on Amazon.com.