How an Epileptic Can Train a Seizure Alert Dog
Why Do Seizure Alert Dogs Cost So Much?
Dogs able to warn their masters of an oncoming epileptic seizure are discussed in almost every site for those suffering from epilepsy. Many epileptics are afraid to even leave the house when alone, so the benefits of an early warning system are obvious.
These dogs undergo extensive training with strangers and to purchase one of these seizure alert dogs is very expensive; these dogs are not usually covered by insurance. Most of them are advertised in dog therapy sites for 10,000 to 15,000 dollars.
Some of the researchers who have looked into these dogs think that only certain highly trained dogs can do this, and the cost is justified because of that extensive training. For those epileptics lucky enough to have obtained one of these dogs they realize it is well worth the cost.
Is There A Less Expensive Option?
Others, epileptics like myself, do not believe that a dog has to be trained with strangers and purchased from a trainer.
Dogs that have not been professionally trained are not exposed to several different people having seizures every day so may become excited or not know enough to even warn the epileptic. Most dogs, however, are attuned to odd smells or unusual behaviors and will alert the person they are bonded to when something is strange. It is just up to the human to notice that his dog is acting unusual.
It is then up to the epileptic to learn and act on the warning.
How to Train a Seizure Alert Dog
- Bond with your new dog or puppy. Once you have brought home your seizure alert candidate, it is up to you to bond closely and make her sensitive to your condition. Read more about bonding to learn more tips.
- Obedience training. Spending the time training your dog with positive techniques will help her bond to you and feel that you are part of her family. You need to teach her all of the basics.
- Socialization. Try to take your dog everywhere with you, even when he has passed the sensitive socialization period. (At about 16 weeks of age.) When you go for a walk, take your dog. When you go to get a cup of coffee, take your dog. Do not forget that you should never take your dog to the store and lock him in a car.
- Canine good citizen program. Ask your vet or local dog trainer if this program is available in your area. It is an AKC certification that will teach your dog to behave in public and allow him or her to spend more time with you.
As your new puppy or dog becomes used to your home let her spend as much time with you as possible. Forget those outdated dog dominance rules like “no sleeping in the bedroom”. Her job is sleeping in your bedroom! Her job is to alert you at any time of day or night. If you do not want to make your dog a part of your life, he or she will never develop into a seizure alert dog.
Allowing her to become part of your life will take some time, and I definitely cannot guarantee that your dog is going to alert on the first seizure. As your puppy ages and develops into an alert dog, she will warn you a few minutes or maybe a half of an hour before a seizure. She might paw at the ground, bark, circle around, or just stare at you and whine. Each dog will alert differently. It is up to you to learn to recognize the signs.
- Never yell at your dog or abuse her if she is doing her job. If you scold a dog when he barks at a stranger at the door, the dog might eventually learn to stop barking at the door. The correct response is to let the dog bark once to alert you to the stranger, praise her, and then check on the person at the door. It is the same thing with a seizure alert dog. If she is acting strange, praise her.
(The first time my dog started acting oddly before one of my seizures I took her outside and closed the door! I was obviously not paying attention. After the seizure, I realized that she was doing her job and I needed to praise her.)
Where Can I Find a Seizure Alert Dog?
It does not matter where you get your candidate for a seizure alert dog.
To find a dog that is going to grow into his job I recommend you start out with evaluating a litter of puppies or some young dogs at the animal shelter using the puppy aptitude testing process developed by the Monks of New Skete. (You can also find details on how to evaluate a puppy in “Dog Training for Dummies” by Jack and Wendy Volhard. Anyone wanting to develop a seizure alert dog should read both books to gain general knowledge.)
Some of the articles on seizure alert dogs recommend that the dog not be too dominant or too submissive. A dominant dog may not even care about the epileptic, they argue, while a submissive dog may become too scared at an impending seizure. Find a young steady dog, one able to live with a family, neither too shy nor too outgoing.
It does not matter what breed she is, nor what sex. I do not think it matters if you get a “free to good home” puppy, a young shelter dog, or a line of expensive therapy Labradors developed by a breeder. (There is a great testimony in the comment section at the bottom of this page from a woman who trained her Maltese as a seizure alert dog. I have also heard of people using Min Pins and other breeds that most people would not expect to use.) Please do not get a puppy from a pet shop since most of them are not socialized early and will not be good candidates. No matter where you get your dog, of course, you need to remember her feeding and medical needs.
Will Any Dog Work?
Any epileptic willing to bond with a dog does not need to spend a lot of money. ANY DOG CAN WORK.
There are still a lot of medical professionals are researchers who deny the value of these dogs. They have no idea if the dog is acting oddly because of a sense of smell or if there is some sort of telepathic communication that they do not believe in.
It doesn’t really matter. I do believe that this is not a skill that can be taught but it is an ability that almost every dog has within herself.
It is up to you to reach inside and find that ability.
Questions & Answers
Is it possible to train a dog that you already have? I've had him for nine years, and he is pretty smart. He's a mixed breed. I know you are not supposed to have another dog in your house if you have a service dog. He's the only companion I have. Any suggestions?
It depends on the dog, not the age. If he is obedience trained and well attuned to your needs, he can become a great seizure alert dog, unless he has dementia/senility or a physical ailment that does not allow him to get around. To train, use the same methods that you would use with a puppy: obedience, socialization, and being alert to any signals he gives you.
Can a seizure alert dog help someone with absense seizures?
Some dogs are attuned to their owners, and can also pick up on petit mal seizures. Most problems occur in people with grand mal seizures, however, so unless you just want a dog, I do not think that a seizure alert dog is necessary.
I know that people with absence seizures have a lot of restrictions (no driving, no operating heavy machinery) but a seizure alert dog will not be able to remove any of those restrictions.
My husband has different types of seizures. How do I start training my new dog to alert him to a seizure?
Your new dog must spend more time with your husband than with your kids. He should take him to the canine good citizen classes and also to basic obedience group classes. They are usually held by local trainers and sometimes by pet superstores. There is no specific training after that, and if you were to fake a seizure to try to train him, the dog would know the difference. Just allow your puppy to become part of your life, do your best to bond with him, and when he is nervous and alerting your husband to the danger, he must pay attention. If something does happen, praise the dog for alerting, give him a special treat, etc.
I just developed epilepsy, and I have two dogs. They both freak out barking when I convulse. I want to train the smaller one; he's young but social. Do you think my social and outgoing dog is a good candidate?
It is difficult to say whether any dog will be a good candidate, but since he is social that is a good sign. Since your dogs are already alert when you have a seizure, it is just a matter of getting them to alert when you have an aura. If you feel it coming on, be sure to encourage him at that time. The most important thing is to pay attention and to reward him if he does any signalling to warn you.
If my dog also has seizures, can I train her to be my seizure alert dog?
You can, but remember that when you have a seizure, you are kind of "out of it" for several hours after. Your dog will feel the same way. All of his muscles will be tired, he will probably have a headache (although no one knows this for sure) and if you have an aura preceding a seizure, he is probably not going to get up and alert you.
If your seizures are uncommon, and your dog is also doing okay on medication, he can definitely become a seizure alert dog.