In dogs we trust

Ian Hamilton discovers the increasingly varied and surprising ways in which people are trusting dogs with their very lives.

Most dog owners, who love their pets, have some kind of story about how the animal knows when they are about to come home, or are thinking of them. But just how remarkable are they? In my documentary "In Dogs We Trust?", I discovered that dogs are capable of so much more than we humans could ever imagine.

Two years ago, I made a TV documentary "Born To Lead".

The programme set out the process of getting my new guide dog, Renton, after my old one, Moss, retired.

After a lot of work and relationship-building, Renton and I are now a solid working team and he guides me from story to story as I do my job as a reporter for BBC Scotland.

Ian and his new guide dog Renton are now a solid working team Ian and his new guide dog Renton are now a solid working team

In this latest programme, I let the viewers see just how much Renton and I have progressed since those early days.

I was also keen to find out about how dogs are helping or assisting, other people who have a variety of disabilities, and illnesses.

Some of them help in ways that is hard even for me, as an assistance dog user, to comprehend.

For example, would you trust your dog to save you or your family's health or even life, on a daily basis?

Well, for one mother, Serena, that is exactly what she does every day when she trusts the family pet Molly to let her know when her 10-year-old son Steven is about to have a diabetic hypo.

Molly can do something that science can't.

That is, she can let Steven and his mother know, in advance, that his blood sugar level is falling to a potentially dangerous level and that he has to take his medication.

How can Molly do this? Well, the truth is, no-one really knows and any science published on the subject has been inconclusive, and yet everyone sees the dog being successful at it.

In fact as the crew were filming we were able to capture on film Molly alerting Steven and franticly searching for the device used to check Steven's blood. The blood is then checked by Serena and Molly was correct. Steven needed glucose and fast.

Diabetes is not the only condition being managed by a canine companion.

During the programme, I met Lynn Ratcliff, who 14 years ago was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Dougle is a seizure alert dog who warns Lynn Ratcliff in advance of any attacks Dougle is a seizure alert dog who warns Lynn Ratcliff in advance of any attacks

At the time she never knew when her next seizure would come but now this has all changed due to her getting a seizure alert dog called Dougle.

The dog alerts her in advance of her having a seizure.

In this instance the dog cannot be trained first and then sent to someone to help them.

The dog has to be tuned into the individual owner's seizures, training cannot simulate what happens between the owner and the dog.

Lynn is adamant that her dog is accurate 100% of the time, giving her confidence to go out and live her life normally.

If all of that wasn't impressive enough, we meet another dog which is being trained to detect one of the most prevalent deadly diseases to humans - cancer.

Every two minutes in the UK someone is being diagnosed with cancer and in recent years there has been no shortage of anecdotal stories of dogs finding cancer in their owners.

Yet, there is still plenty of scepticism among the cancer research community about the use of dogs.

There is scepticism about the use of dogs in detecting cancer but there is much interest in the results There is scepticism about the use of dogs in detecting cancer but there is much interest in the results

We talked to one dog training charity who claim that they are getting closer to finding an effective way of training dogs to discover cancer in samples.

However, a scientist, from a large international cancer research charity said that dogs are not a practical method to advance the cure for cancer.

She did admit to me in the film, that if a cancer detection dog could find the chemical compound that made up the disease, it may help scientists to produce an electronic way of doing the same thing more consistently than a dog.

While making this programme it became apparent that although we think we have a close bond with our dogs, we still know very little about their true potential to help humans.

As pointed out during the making of the programme, they may have untapped powers to assist us, but what do they get out of the relationship with humans?

"In Dogs We Trust" is on BBC1 Scotland at 19:30 on Monday 17 December

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