Dogs can be trained to sniff out gluten. Unidentified Beauceron. Photo: CC-miluz
02/01/2011 - Imagine having a dog that was specially-trained to sniff out even the tiniest amounts of gluten in food and warn you ahead of time. There are scores of people with celiac disease severe enough that the slightest trace of gluten can make them painfully ill. Hollie Scott is one of them. Scott is a University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine student is also lucky to have her dog Elias is a champion Beauceron and a gluten-detecter extraordinaire. The handsome Beauceron comes from a 400-year-old breed that became almost extinct serving as messenger dogs in Europe during two world wars. Even though he is just only 2 years old, Elias is the first male Beauceron to receive the title AKC Grand Champion. His full title is: GCH CH Elias Mes Yeux Vigilants RN. But Elias' regular job is working as a gluten-detection service dog for his twenty-two year old owner, Scott, a first-year student in the program.

To become so accomplished at gluten-detection, Elias spent weeks in Slovenia undergoing intense gluten-detection training, and now he can detect and warn her away from anything containing gluten, hot or cold, in all its many forms. Teaching a dog to be alert to the scent of gluten is more challenging than other scent-detection training, precisely because gluten comes in so many forms. When it's time for Elias to do the sniff test for Scott, she places a cover with holes over the item, and the dog takes a sniff. If Elias smells gluten, he tries to pull the item away from her; if it's safe, he just looks away. To help Elias keep his edge, Scott tests him daily with known gluten-containing foods, and adds in products she hopes are gluten-free.

Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease about two years ago after spending much time "in and out of hospitals" She's now acutely vigilant about checking labels and trying to avoid cross-contamination. "You can't drop your guard for even a minute," says Scott, who likens an attack to "a really extremely bad case of stomach flu" from which her body doesn't recover fully for nearly three weeks. That's where Elias works like a charm.

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