An untrained dog may sense changes because of illness

Josie, an American bulldog and hound mix owned by Debbie Shuler, president of Cliff Shuler Auctioneers, could not stop licking Dan Reigada when he dropped by the business. He wonders if Josie was trying to alert him about a health condition.


Can untrained dogs sniff out an oncoming stroke and other illnesses or conditions?

When Dan Reigada of Titusville visited Shuler Auctioneers, the owner’s dog, Josie, followed him, sniffing and licking his hand. The dog even licked Reigada’s eyeglasses, sticking from his pocket. This was a minor annoyance as Reigada admired classic cars to be auctioned.

“I started to pull my hand away,” he said. “But then I thought my hand is already wet, so what’s the point?”

The dog stayed at Reigada’s side and the licking continued. Later that day, Reigada suffered a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or mini-stroke. He was kept in the hospital overnight and is now at home recovering. He wonders if Josie sensed what was about to happen.

Shuler Auctioneers president and Josie’s owner, Debbie Shuler, does not recall the 3½-year-old American bulldog and hound mix as having such intuition.

“Josie is a protective, but loving dog,” she said. “When my late husband was sick and confined to bed, Josie stayed in his room and remained at his bedside.”

Cliff Shuler passed away in September 2019.

“He never said so, but I know he liked having Josie there,” she said.

A professional dog trainer, Monique De Roeck, owner of the K9 and Detection Dog Training Academy in St. Johnsville, New York, has nearly 30 years of experience.

She regularly shares her expertise with dog trainers, pet dog owners, professional handlers, veterinarians, ethologists and behaviorists around the world. Her medical detection dogs detect conditions such as strokes, seizures and cancer. She has trained dogs for professional handlers in law enforcement, the military and conservation efforts.

“Every dog can detect something, and some dogs have a sixth sense as we call it,” De Roeck said. “When a dog makes a connection with a person, it may detect changes in that person’s body language. But to be reliable, a dog needs training. We don’t need detection when something happens, but before it happens.”

De Roeck calls dogs scent detectives. The organization’s website sums it up. “Dogs are masters at using their nose to get information.”

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