Among the three types of assistance dogs, there is the type referred to as a service dog that partners with people suffering from any one of the full spectrum of disabilities, other than those related to vision or hearing.
One of this group of dogs is partnered with people suffering seizure disorders, such as epilepsy. There are two sub-categories of dogs assisting people suffering seizure disorders – they are: seizure alert dogs and seizure response dogs.
Seizure Alert vs. Seizure Response
The names provide some hints as to what each type of seizure dog does.
Seizure alert dogs warn their human partners in advance of oncoming seizures. About, 15 percent of dogs can naturally sense oncoming seizures anywhere from about 10 minutes up to 12 hours ahead of time. It is believed that, sensing an impending seizure is an innate ability in some dogs. This ability doesn’t appear to be related to the dogs breed, sex, age, or other obvious physical canine characteristics. This warning gives the person an opportunity to move to a safe place, take medication, call for help, notify friends or family of the impending seizure so they can be checked later. Once a dog has been determined to have this ability, its alerting behaviors are encouraged and promoted through positive training methods. The alerting behaviors can include: close eye contact, pawing, barking, circling or pacing, licking, rubbing, acting restlessly and more.
While there are theories on how dogs can sense seizures, there isn’t full agreement and additional research will be needed. Many experts believe these gifted dogs pick up on a minute chemical change in the affected person’s body chemistry though their keen canine sense of smell; others think that these dogs notice fine motor changes that aren’t perceptible to the human senses. It may be one or the other or simply a combination of both. Either way, this canine behavior is natural and only occurs in a small number of dogs. Success of these dogs depends largely on the handler’s awareness and response to the dog’s alerting behavior.
Seizure response dogs, on the other hand, respond to their partner when a seizure occurs. These dogs aren’t able to warn about oncoming seizures, but are trained to keep their partners safe and provide all manner of crucial help in the event of a seizure. These dogs are trained to assist their partner during or following the seizure itself. The dog may respond by instinct, or it can be trained for this purpose.
How Seizure Alert and Response Dogs Help
Both types of dogs – Seizure Alert and Seizure Response Dogs – can be trained to alert others that a seizure is occurring or simply stay with the person during the seizure to help avoid injury. Additionally, tasks they can be trained to perform, include: getting assistance, operating a call button or K9 phone, rolling the person to create an open airway, blocking the person from stairs and intersections, blocking the person from rising before the seizure is over, helping the person to rise and more. The training depends on the provider organization or trainer and this should be researched when searching for a dog.
Finally, as the person is recovering from the seizure, the presence of these special dogs can be both reassuring and reorienting to the partner. Many individuals report feeling more confident, knowing that they have some type of assistance for their seizures.
If You or a Loved One Suffers from Seizures
Seizures can interfere greatly with independence, confidence, and quality of life. They make something as simple as going out to the store a scary and potentially dangerous, even life-threatening prospect. The risks are many and varied, but a seizure service dog can help regain a great deal of freedom.
As with any assistance dog, these dogs undergo customized training to meet the specific needs of the individuals with whom they’re being partnered. The decision to partner is a big one, so take a look at our article about deciding whether an assistance dog is right for you.
Also, read up on choosing a reputable assistance dog provider. If you want a seizure alert dog, you have considerably fewer options than people looking for most other kinds of assistance dogs. Relatively few providers work with these special dogs, as they aren’t all that common. The best first step when seeking one of these dogs is to do a little personal research based on your specific needs. Just like any other type of dog, these dogs come with a commitment to responsibility.