We train both Seizure Assistance and Seizure Alert Dogs, and are frequently asked what the difference is between them. The short answer is that a Seizure Assistance Dog is trained to behave a certain way when a seizure occurs. This is usually a task such as pressing a medical alert button, retrieving a phone, or barking for help. A Seizure Alert Dog is trained to behave a certain way before the seizure ever happens, providing early warning to their handler that a seizure is imminent. With many types of seizures, time is of the essence to limit the amount of damage the body suffers, and with enough advance notice, some seizures can even be prevented by the administration of appropriate medications.
Can a dog be trained in both skills? Yes, a dog can be trained to both indicate before a seizure occurs as well as sound the alert when one is in progress. Of course, there is more cost involved as this requires the dog to be trained with two very distinct, and potentially life-saving skills.
It is important to understand that dogs may not be able to be trained to alert to or assist with all types of seizures. In order to train a seizure alert dog to alert to a type of seizure, there must be unique visual, physical, or audible cues that can be imitated during training. Grand Mal, myoclonic, clonic, and tonic seizures, and other less common types are among those with symptoms which are most easily mimicked. Atonic and absence seizures are not; their latency gives us a much lower success rate.
The training process includes exposing the seizure alert dog to the symptoms of the seizure and shaping his or her behavior to a final indication, whether it be a bark alert or pushing an emergency call button. The mimicked symptoms become the cue for the dog to perform his or her desired behavior, and the dog is rewarded each time he or she successfully executes the behavior. This training is only one part of the battle. The other part comes from a solid transition to working for the person for whom the seizure alert dog will eventually work. Out of training, there is a 50-70% chance the dog will recognize the seizure before it occurs. This is dependent upon the bond which the human and dog create and how well the handler follows through with the training.
Many seizure alert dogs will begin to identify cues that start far earlier than the initial cues they were trained to alert, and even in advance of medical devices, but this process takes time and is wholly dependent on the dog-human relationship being solid, strong, close, and positive. The dog must continue to be reinforced for the proper behavior at the proper time. This is one case where training a personal pet dog is frequently the most ideal option because the dog is already bonded to the handler, which can speed the alert process.
Many seizures occur during the night, when no one is around to monitor the individual in need. A canine companion can be trained to sleep in the bed with their handler so they are immediately aware of the changes in the body’s chemistry and can alert or assist others in the household.
If you are in need of a Seizure Alert Dog or a Seizure Assistance Dog for yourself or for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions. We have successfully trained and placed several of these valued service animals with families in need, bringing a higher quality of life, and peace of mind to those who care.