Do not attempt to train a seizure-alert dog on your own. Be wary about fraudulent dog training companies that offer services too good to be true; there are several scamming companies in this field eager to take your money. Some dogs may react defensively or offensively when witnessing a seizure and some dogs may also become overprotective of epileptic people. Only 15 percent of dogs are naturally inclined to predict seizures, according to Service Dog Central. Don't hold your expectations too high; it may take your dog up to six months of living with you for him to start predicting seizures.
A good seizure-alert dog should alert several minutes prior to the seizure. No guarantees should ever be made on the outcome of seizure-alert training. Anyone who makes guarantees is likely to be a scam artist. Verify the credentials of each organization and find a program that works best. The belief that a dog can be trained to predict seizures remains a subject of controversy; many believe this ability is innate and not teachable. Many prefer the term "seizure-assist dog" to "seizure-alert dog," which they perceive as misleading. Should your dog not have what it takes to predict seizures, consider that several epileptics rely on their dogs for emotional support and some have even noticed an improvement in their seizure rate after getting a dog.
While dogs are yet not capable of using a crystal ball to predict the future, some appear almost to have a "sixth sense" when it comes to detecting the onset of some events. Some dogs particularly perceptive at reading human body language may become adept at warning of oncoming seizures.
Search for the ideal dog for the task. No one breed has been identified as superior for this role, explains veterinarian Liz Rudy. The ideal candidate should be very in tune with people, their emotions and their feelings. Friendliness, great confidence, eagerness to please and strong observational skills are the qualities you want to find on the "curriculum vitae" of a potential seizure-alert dog.
Have a dog behavioral specialist evaluate the dog's temperament. This professional will determine whether the dog is suitable for the task and ensure that his health and welfare will not be compromised by the training. Some dogs may be too fearful or apprehensive for this role and may get stressed after repeatedly witnessing seizures. Nerves of steel are a must. The ideal dog should also be evaluated for good social skills so the safety of the public is not jeopardized.
Contact organizations specializing in service dog training. Alternatively, find a private trainer or a behavioral training specialist specializing in training service animals. The American Dog Trainer Network lists several resources for service dog programs. Look for reviews from people who have received seizure-alert dogs and are satisfied. Because this is a relatively new field, there are currently no specific training guidelines or accreditation programs for service-alert dog trainers.
Teach your dog to focus on you by praising and feeding him treats when he remains close by. By bonding with you and staying by your side, your "Velcro dog" will be more in tune with you and will learn more about your smell, your body movements and your emotions. Some believe that seizure-alert dogs detect seizures by paying attention to small changes in the epileptic person's biochemistry or by recognizing small, almost imperceptible muscle movements that take place before the actual seizure.
Have a seizure-alert dog trainer hold several individual sessions with you. The more seizures you are prone to, the more opportunities your dog has for picking up signals that a seizure is coming. The trainer may train your dog through associative learning to pair the seizure with a pleasurable event. Over time, this will cause the dog to look forward to seizures and pay special attention to any pre-seizure cues. This recognition phase, in which the dog starts identifying signs that a seizure is about to occur, is the first phase of the training, explains Dr. Rudy.
Learn how to recognize any signs your dog may be alerting you about an oncoming seizure. This is the second phase of training, during which your dog starts physically reacting to his perception. Some dogs may display quite obvious signs such as pawing at you, nudging you, licking or barking, while others may give off very subtle, barely perceptible signs. Your trainer should work on polishing these alerts and making them more obvious and reliable over time. This way, you will have ample time to stay safe and out of harm's way.
- Delta Society: Service Dogs for People with Seizure Disorders [PDF]
- Service Dog Central: Seizure Alert/Response Dogs
- Seizure; The Use of Seizure-Alert Dogs; Val Strong, et al.
- Epilepsy: Where to Go to Find a Seizure Alert Dog
- American Dog Trainers Network: Service and Assistance Dogs
- Canine Partners for Life: Our Programs