"They are an alarm system. They are helpers, protectors, and service providers."
Seizure dogs can be all these things – and more.
Dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures, just like they can be trained to serve people with other disabilities. The law protects a person's right to use a service animal in any public place.
What is a seizure dog?
A seizure dog is a dog that has been trained (or has learned) to respond to a seizure in someone who has epilepsy.
Is "seizure dog" the official name?
It is the name that is most often used. Some people distinguish between dogs that respond to someone who is having a seizure (seizure response dog) and dogs that appear to know when a seizure is going to occur (seizure predicting dog).
- Seizure Response Dog: This type of dog is trained to perform specific behaviors during or after a seizure. This might include barking to alert family members when someone is having a seizure or activating a call system. Other dogs may learn to lie next to the person having a seizure to comfort or protect them.
- Seizure Predicting Dog: This type of dog may demonstrate specific behaviors before a seizure. These behaviors may imply that a seizure alert dog can anticipate a person’s seizures. While it is true that some dogs seem to be able to sense their owner’s seizures before they start, this is rare and more research is needed to understand and verify what is happening.
What do seizure dogs do?
- Some dogs have been trained to bark or otherwise alert families when a child has a seizure while playing outside or in another room.
- Some dogs learn to lie next to someone having a seizure to prevent injury.
- Some dogs learn to put their body between the seizing individual and the floor to break the fall at the start of a seizure.
- Some dogs are trained to activate some kind of pre-programmed device, such as a pedal that rings an alarm.
- Seizure dogs do not take the place of medical advice for night time supervision or other physician directed monitoring. There is no evidence that seizure dogs reduce the risk of SUDEP (sudden unexpected death in epilepsy).
Public interest in seizure assistance dogs has fueled demand for dogs with these skills.
Can my pet be trained as a seizure dog?
Most dogs do not have the natural ability or temperament to be a service dog or a seizure dog. There are some anecdotal reports that family pets may learn to respond or alert to seizures before or after they occur. However, there have been no strong scientific studies done that look at EEG (electroencephalogram) changes and the accuracy of a dog’s responses. Many different breeds of dogs can be trained as service dogs, but not all.
Even if a dog cannot predict a seizure, they can provide valuable companionship, support, and emotional benefit. This can be a major benefit to people who have epilepsy or another chronic illness.
How can someone get a seizure dog?
It depends what your goals are. If you are looking for a seizure response dog, you can discuss what you want the dog to do and work out a plan with a trainer.
However, getting a dog with the special skill of recognizing seizures in advance is another matter. Any claims by trainers that they can produce this type of behavior in a dog should be looked at very carefully, especially when the training is expensive. While some people report success, others have been disappointed.
More research is needed to better understand what dogs can and cannot do, whether there are differences between breeds, and how best to develop this unique skill.
- Search our Epilepsy & Seizures 24/7 Helpline Resources for seizure dog organizations near you.
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