The Big Question: Can Dogs Actually be Trained to Alert to Seizures?
We are very aware that most of what used to be said about Seizure Alert Dogs opposed this idea… but we have always disagreed – in fact, we’ve proven our methods… over, and over again. Little Angels is the proud leader in this industry when it comes to actively training dogs to alert to seizures. We developed the method that works and we will never hide our secret, because this knowledge is not something that should be hidden. We’ve been sharing our methods with other programs and trainers for years, and we love to see how many can be helped when others adopt our training methods. There is no greater goal than changing someone’s life through a highly trained dog, whether that dog comes directly from our program or not.
In years past internet posts stated that only certain dogs ccould alert to seizures; that it is something they do naturally and they cannot be taught to perform this miracle. This was said about diabetic alert dogs as well – until someone discovered the miracle of scent training!
The dogs who alert naturally to seizures are the dogs that care; these dogs are distressed that their beloved handler is having a seizure. Why do they care, you ask? Because they are naturally anxious dogs by breed and personality. Many of these dogs are displaying outward signs from their distress of knowing their handler is about to have a seizure, such as barking, whining, pacing, clinging to their handler, etc.; but many other dogs are alerting in their own way by yawning, licking their paws, or hiding in another room, all of which are all also signs of distress from a dog. It is just that in many of these cases, the handler would never put two and two together; that their dog is licking its paw 20 minutes before every seizure, for example. But in the hopes that the dog will naturally alert in a visible way, trainers will hand-pick dogs who are naturally anxious, hoping that the dog will inadvertently alert the owner before the seizure occurs.
This is where we go further.
We do not believe that only anxious dogs can sense seizures – we believe that ALL dogs can sense them, it’s just that not all of them care. So how do we get them to care?
We play what is called “the alert game” with our dogs. When we say ALERT, the dog is trained to paw at our leg to get a tasty treat that is reserved only for this amazingly fun game. The dog starts to LIVE for this game! They can hardly wait to play it. Then here comes the miracle…
Our trainers will only play “the alert game” when we have a scent sample of the seizure which the recipient mails to us before they get their dog. With practice and repetition from our trainers the cue for ALERT changes from us verbally commanding the dog, to the scent of the seizure. Soon the dog starts to paw at our leg with the scent alone. Then when the disabled recipient comes for Handler Training, we show them how to play “the alert game”, and we make certain the dog loves playing it with their new handler…then we cut off the game. We instruct the disabled recipient to only play the game right after they are recovering from a seizure. Pretty soon the dog realizes that the only time they get to play this amazing game is when their handler has a seizure, and that scent is present. The dog senses the chemical changes in their handler’s body – they pick up the scent – they know a seizure is about to happen – they know the game is about to happen, and they come over and paw at their handler’s leg to play the game.
The dog is saying, “Hey, it’s time to play the game!”
The handler knows, “My dog says I’m about to have a seizure.”
All we need is a dog who pays attention to their surroundings, and a dog who likes food. We don’t have to guess anymore about what dog is anxious enough, and how might the dog inadvertently alert to the seizures, and will the dog ever put two and two together.
We truly hope that more trainers pick up on this. We won’t care that they are using our techniques – after all, we are here to help as many people as possible.
Types of Seizures
There are many different types of seizures. Some seizures, such as many temporal lobe seizures, build gradually, with seizure activity building slowly over time. This allows an advanced warning system for a dog to recognize a scent cue and alert in advance before the seizure “breaks through” with the visible signs of a seizure. Some seizures, such as many frontal lobe seizures, strike quickly like lightening and many do not have a gradual increase of seizure activity. In some of these cases, with frontal lobe seizures, it is impossible for a dog to alert in advance because there is no advanced seizure activity within the brain that the dog can detect – but dogs can still be taught to alert during the seizure which can assist in the form of the dog alerting another household member of their recipient’s seizure. Many detailed factors come into play which can determine if a dog is able to alert in advance of a seizure, or during a seizure. Every case is different based on the types of seizures the disabled party experiences, how often these seizures occur, and when these seizures occur. We will need to speak with you and your neurologist to have a full understanding of your seizures. This allows us to determine what is possible, to make sure you have a realistic expectation of how a dog can assist.
Our dogs are also trained to assist after a seizure. This is often called ‘seizure response’ training. They are trained to locate and retrieve a phone for their handler to call for help if needed, or even to dial a specialized assistance dog phone so the dog can call for help while their handler is unconscious during the seizure. Dogs are also trained to help brace or balance their handler for stability after a seizure, retrieve medication, provide deep pressure therapy, or in certain cases recipients will ask that the dog be trained to retrieve a family member in another room.
Seizure Assistance and Alert Dogs for Children and Infants
Because of our alert game, we can train the dog to alert a parent that their child is going to have a seizure. No more worrying! It is such a relief for parents to know when their child will have a seizure.
Is a Little Angels Seizure Assistance & Alert Dog Right for Me?
In order to receive a Seizure Assistance & Alert Dog from Little Angels, you must:
- Have seizures more than once a month on average in order for the dog to experience them often enough to learn and recognize them.
- Have strong communication skills and the ability to be consistent with a dog regarding training exercises.
- Have a love for dogs.
- Have patience to work through problems (even a trained dog is still a dog).
- Have finances to provide your dog with veterinary care and maintenance for the next 10-12 years.
- Be willing to travel to San Diego, California or Bartlett, New Hampshire for Handler Training, preferably with a friend or family member for support.
Handler Training is where the disabled party learns how to work with the dog as a team. This generally takes 14 days, with training every day. This is when the dog learns to respond to the commands of the handler, and when the handler learns how to reinforce the training that the dog has already received. We cover practical, day-to-day life experiences so you will feel confident taking the dog into your care. We work in real-life situations such as outings to shopping malls, restaurants, and parks so you will feel comfortable taking the dog with you into the public setting.
After the completion of Handler Training, we work together on a series of field tests, which are administered by the trainer. After graduation, you and your dog will be certified as a working team. A certification card will be provided to the handler, as well as a service vest and identification tag for your dog, which labels him or her as a service animal.
We have a lifetime commitment to each recipient and each dog that we place. Once you and your dog have graduated we maintain contact to insure that your dog’s training and assistance remains in tact, that the dog remains healthy and happy, and that the dog is improving your quality of life.
What are the Steps Involved for Receiving a
Seizure Assistance & Alert Dog?
- Submit an application through our Apply for a Service Dog page
- Submit a personal referral and medical documentation: If your initial application looks like a good fit we will reach out and ask for these documents.
- If accepted, we will contact you to schedule a phone consultation: The consultation is an average of 60 minutes during which we discuss realistic expectations of how a service dog can assist you, and to make sure you are a good fit for one of our dogs.
- The agreement: If we believe one of our service dogs can assist you we will write our a customized agreement and ask you to review your final decision with friends and family.
- Return your agreement with your $500.00 minimum deposit, to be added to our waiting list: The deposit is your sign to us that you are committed to the program. Once this is received we begin fundraising for the costs associated with your dog.
- Fundraising: Organizations nationwide spend an average of $50,000 on each assistance dog trained. The average service dog graduates with over 600 hours of training, and with that expense also comes veterinary care, boarding, grooming and training supplies. Because of the commitment of all our wonderful volunteers, Little Angels spends $38,000 per dog. This is an expense covered through fundraising. We ask our recipients to be responsible for the first 1/4 of the expense, which is $9,500. This is usually covered through fundraising, and we are happy to help guide you through that process.
- Dog Selection and Specialized Training: Once the funds are met, regardless of how the funds were raised, we move you to the second part of our waiting list where you are a priority for dog placement. This is when we choose a dog from our training program that has the natural propensities to assist in the ways needed for your disability, and we continue any additional specialized training needed specifically for your needs.
- Handler Training: During handler training we work with you, one-on-one and show you how to reinforce the training your dog has already had. Once you and your dog graduate our program we stay in daily contact for the first month, followed by monthly, and bi-yearly consultations for reports on your dog’s ability to continuously provide assistance to you and your child.