Dogs have proven to be of help to us in so many different ways. With their superior senses and attention to detail, it is no surprise that dogs capable of alerting to their owner’s seizures have become so popular lately. This often lifesaving task has given many people living with seizure disorders entirely new possibilities thought impossible before the addition of a seizure alert dog. When a seizure strikes, it can often be scary, intimidating, and create a very unsafe situation for the individual. Having a dog trained to take action during a seizure can make a world of difference. Having a trustworthy companion capable of offering their aid during a seizure creates opportunities for their owners to have more independence, feel more secure, and be more prepared for when a seizure happens.
We train both Seizure Assistance and Seizure Alert Service 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.
Ever versatile, a service dog tested for the correct temperament and drive can be trained to both indicate before a seizure occurs as well as sound the alert when one is in progress. This means it is possible for the dog to be trained in both seizure and seizure assistance skills, depending upon what the owner needs. Intensive training such as these types of tasks typically require more time with the trainer, as this requires the dog to be trained with two very distinct, and potentially life-saving skills.
Both types of service dogs are amazing examples of the abilities of our canine companions. However, it is important to understand that seizure alert is not a task all dogs can learn. Due to the precarious situations of seizures, it is a possibility the service dog may never pick up on the seizures ahead of time. However, given the type of seizures, chances of the dog learning to sense the seizure beforehand improve with training. Though seizure alert training is complex and can be difficult, it is still possible and extremely helpful to those who require this type of assistance.
It is vital to understand that dogs may not be able to be trained to assist with every type of seizure. For a seizure alert dog to be trained successfully, there must be unique signs (physical, visual or audible) which can be imitated during the training of the dog. Some seizure types – for example, Grand Mal, myoclonic and tonic seizures – are easily replicated in the training process. Others, such as atonic and absence seizures, are not, resulting in a much lower success rate.
This places an increased importance on the training process of a seizure service dog. This involves exposing the seizure alert dog to the typical symptoms of the seizure and shaping their behavior to a final indication, such as a bark, or even pawing at their owner to let them know a seizure will be oncoming shortly. These mimicked symptoms become the cue for the dog to perform their desired behavior, with the animal rewarded each time they successfully perform the behavior. Training is just one half of the battle; the other half is ensuring a solid transition when the seizure alert dog begins working for their handler.
The chances of success as a result of a reliable training regime increase by leaps and bounds. Without training, there is a 10-20% chance a dog will naturally pick up on the signs of a seizure before they occur. Yet, with training, the chance of a service dog recognizing these symptoms increases to approximately 60-80%. This is dependent on a number of factors, such as the bond created between the handler and their dog, and how diligently the dog’s maintenance training is maintained.
With time, many seizure alert dogs will begin to spot cues far earlier than the initial cues they were trained to alert for – in some cases, even in advance of medical devices. However, this process takes time and is dependent on the dog-human bond being solid, strong and positive. The dog must continue to have its training reinforced to ensure it performs the correct behaviour at the correct time. This is one situation where training a personal pet dog is often an ideal option, because there is already a strong bond between the dog and the handler, which can speed the alert process.
As described, seizure alert training takes time and commitment but the results can be lifesaving and life changing. The fear of having a seizure while in public, resulting in a bad fall or landing in a dangerous area, can be avoided when receiving a warning from a seizure alert dog. 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. Increased independence, security, and constant companionship are only a few of the differences these dogs make in the lives of their owners affected by a seizure disorder.
If you or a loved one are affected by a seizure disorder and believe a seizure service dog would improve your daily life, please feel free to contact us. Our trainers can help you decide what type of training would be best for your situation and needs to ensure you get the most out of your service dog. Because every person is unique, our service dogs are selected and trained to each client’s specific needs and lifestyle.