Service dogs are incredible animals that give people the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest. Without them, countless people would not be able to perform daily tasks or experience what many take for granted. Some of these dogs, called “seizure response dogs,” assist people who suffer from epileptic and non-epileptic seizures. There are numerous types of seizures, and these dogs will come to the aid of their handlers, regardless of the issue. And because of this, their tasks are aimed at helping affected people combat the common dangers of their disease. So what are seizure response dogs, and what do they do?
Do Seizure Response Dogs Alert to Oncoming Seizures?
No, seizure response dogs do not alert to oncoming seizures. Seizure alert dogs and seizure response dogs are not the same thing. That said, a dog can be both a seizure alert and seizure response dog. Dogs cannot be trained to alert to oncoming seizures. Those dogs that do alert their owners or other caretakers do so naturally. It is currently unknown exactly what these dogs are detecting and how to train them to start or continue the behavior. In short, a seizure alert dog is a dog that naturally alerts to seizures. A seizure response dog is a dog that is trained to perform various behaviors in response to a seizure. Remember this and be wary of anyone promising to train your dog or another dog to alert to seizures.
Seizure Response Dog Training
Many dogs can be trained to be seizure response dogs, but not all. Like any service dog, the right temperament makes all the difference. These dogs should be calm, gentle, and very well trained in basic obedience. They should be neutral to their surroundings, but never aggressive or shy, as many people will need the assistance of humans around them during and after a seizure. Because their tasks may include retrieving items, pulling wheelchairs, and turning on and off lights, size is also important. You don’t want a dog that is too small to perform these tasks, but you also want a dog that is a manageable size for the owner. There are many organizations that train dogs specifically as seizure response dogs, and many of these organizations donate these animals to families in need. These organizations often have breeding programs of dogs bred to be service animals in a variety of venues, so the dogs have the right temperament and training to assist their owners. That said, many who suffer from seizures often train their own dogs to perform small tasks themselves or with the help of a professional trainer.
What Tasks Do Seizure Response Dogs Perform?
The tasks of a seizure response dog are endless; you can teach as much or as little as you like. Since every person is different, their needs will be different and, therefore, the tasks their dog performs differ, as well. There are some typical behaviors that are desired from seizure response dogs, however. Many seizure response dogs are trained to begin barking to alert a family member or caregiver when a seizure begins, so they can provide medical assistance if needed. Some dogs are trained to lie next to their owners during a seizure to help the owners from injuring themselves, and others still will stand next to their owners to break their fall and prevent injury. These dogs catch their owners as they lose control and fall over. Seizure response dogs can be trained to press alarm buttons or other pre-programmed devices that call for help. They are often trained in mobility assistance, such as pulling wheelchairs and helping their owners get up and walk to a safe place before or after a seizure. Many dogs will retrieve dropped items, turn on and off lights, help remove clothing by tugging it off, and open and close doors.
Seizure response dogs are invaluable assets. They assist their owners during frightening and dangerous events, and they also serve as constant companions that provide unconditional love, friendship, and support. Many people with epilepsy and other people who have seizures are unable to live “normal” lives, and these dogs provide them with that opportunity. Seizure response dogs are truly lifesavers, in every sense of the word.
SOURCE: By K. Findlay for the American Kennel Club