Seizure Alert/Response Dogs

Approximately fifteen percent of dogs possess a natural ability to predict seizures before they occur. These dogs typically provide an alert 10-20 minutes before a seizure, allowing the individual with the seizure disorder time to move to a safe location, take medication, seek assistance, or inform friends or family about the impending seizure for later check-ins.

Apart from these seizure-predicting dogs, there are seizure-response dogs, trained to assist their owner during or after a seizure. Their tasks can include positioning the person to maintain an open airway, clearing vomit, summoning help, using a call button or K9 phone, preventing the person from accessing dangerous areas like stairs during postictal disorientation, assisting with standing up, aiding balance issues post-seizure, and guiding the disoriented person to a predetermined location or person. Given the utility of these response tasks, most seizure alert dogs are also trained in response work, making them dual-purpose “seizure alert/response dogs” or simply “seizure dogs.”

The exact mechanism through which dogs predict seizures is not definitively known. The two prevailing theories suggest that these dogs may either detect subtle changes in the person’s biochemistry (such as blood chemistry changes) or notice fine motor changes that are imperceptible to humans. This ability is innate in some dogs and cannot be trained if the dog does not naturally possess it. While some training methods involve exposing dogs to the sweat of a person post-seizure or encouraging them to focus on a person during or after a seizure, these methods do not truly ‘train’ the alert behavior. Effective conditioning requires reinforcement within seconds of the desired behavior, and since the seizure event occurs 10-20 minutes after the alert, these methods are more about identifying dogs with a natural alerting ability.

It may take up to six months for a dog with this inherent ability to start demonstrating it when living with a person who has a seizure disorder. Seizure response dog programs have reported that about half of their placed response dogs also develop the ability to alert within six months of being with their handler. This development indicates that while the ability to predict seizures is innate, it may manifest more clearly or be more readily observed in the presence of a person who experiences seizures regularly.

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