Olson '19 trains dogs to save lives
Camden Olson ‘19 never had a pet dog growing up, but a story she read in the seventh grade sparked an interest in training service dogs. That passion has shaped her experiences ever since: from training neighborhood dogs in her hometown of Chicago, to spending a gap year at a guide dog school in Maine, to basing her senior thesis on Koa, a miniature golden retriever Olson is training to be a diabetic alert dog.
“Since I wasn’t allowed to have a dog, I would do everything that I could to train and work with dogs – I’d watch TV shows, read books about it, I did an independent study in high school and worked with the neighbors’ dog, anything I could,” she explained.
After graduating high school, Olson wanted to delve deeper into the world of service dog training. Her grandmother, who had encouraged Olson to get involved with dog training, lived in Maine, and Olson moved there for a year to begin training a guide dog. She also worked in a dental clinic, helped teach obedience classes, and taught dog safety in schools. At the end of the year, the guide dog that she trained was successfully placed with a new owner in California.
Olson spent a year and a half in an extended approval process that ultimately allowed her to train a service dog while at school. Koa will be a diabetic alert dog, trained to paw at his owner when he smells that their blood sugar is too high or too low. Olson began working with him early in the summer, when he was just eight weeks old. She used saliva samples to help him develop the ability to determine whether a person’s blood sugar levels are out of balance. By the time he was three and a half months old, Koa was able to “live alert” – to paw at Olson when her blood sugar was lower than usual.
At the end of the summer, Olson moved Koa into her University dorm room. She has continued his training on campus ever since, and hopes to place him with a Type 1 diabetic at the end of the school year.
“I love having Koa in the room – it's like always having a puppy study break!” Madeleine Cheyette ‘19, Olson’s roommate, said. “Camden is really, really great at training him. You can tell that this is something she's so passionate about. I'm really happy this work was approved for her.”
Olson said that the experience of training a service dog has helped her become more aware of her day-to-day emotions.