Seizure Alert Dog Training
Dexter and Natalie's Story
Understanding Seizure Alert Dogs
Myth: Dogs cannot be trained to alert to seizures.
We are very aware that common consensus in the service dog industry is that dogs cannot be trained to alert to seizures. Other organizations acknowledge that some dogs do alert to seizures, but assert that they do it of their own accord, and not as a result of training. At Little Angels, we disagree with their argument. While it is true that some dogs have shown a natural tendency to alert to seizures, internet posts that say only certain dogs can alert are incorrect. In fact, this same reasoning was once applied to diabetic alert dogs as well, but the discovery of scent training changed all of that!
The dogs who alert naturally to seizures are dogs who care; they are distressed that their beloved handler is having a seizure. The dogs who have this innate compassion for their handler tend to be naturally nervous by breed and personality. Their pacing, whining, barking, clinging to their handler, etc. are all outward signs of their distress at knowing their handler is about to have a seizure. However, many other dogs alert in more subtle ways that go unnoticed by their handler. More discreet signs of distress in dogs include yawning, licking their paws and hiding in another room. In the past, trainers have hand-picked dogs who were naturally anxious in hopes that they would naturally begin to pick up on their handlers seizures and alert in a recognizable way.
At Little Angels, We Believe That All Dogs Can Sense Seizures
Our conviction that all dogs can sense and alert to an impending seizure stems from our proven methods. We have repeatedly trained dogs who are able to alert in advance of their handler’s seizures. In fact, Little Angels is the proud leader in the industry with regard to actively training dogs to alert to seizures. While we developed the training sequence that works, we will never conceal our methods. By sharing our training practices with other programs, we can ensure that we maximize the impact of our training methods and help to reduce the suffering of those affected by seizures on a broader scale. Changing someone’s life through a highly trained dog is our greatest goal, regardless of whether the dog comes from our program or another.
Training Dogs to Alert to Seizures
The cornerstone of our training method is called “the alert game”. When given the “Alert” command, our dogs are trained to paw at our leg and receive a tasty treat in exchange for the behavior. The treats used for this game are especially tasty, and reserved exclusively for playing the alert game. Over time, the dog starts to LIVE for this game! Once the dog has learned how to alert on command the trainers are able to move onto the second phase of seizure alert training.
Prior to placing a seizure alert dog, the future handler will provide Little Angels with a scent sample from one of their seizures. Then, our trainers will play the alert game with the dog only when the scent sample is present in the room. With practice and repetition from our trainers, the cue to alert shifts from a verbal command to the scent sample. Soon, the dog will paw at their handler’s leg any time the scent is present. This transition is our cue that the dog is ready to be placed with its handler. When the affected recipient arrives for Handler Training, the last phase of the training can begin. First, we show them how to play “the alert game”, and we make certain that the dog loves playing it with their new handler. Once we are sure that the dog and handler are both clear on how to alert, we quit playing the game. From this point forward, the recipient will only play the game immediately following a seizure. Over time, often a very short amount of time, the dog realizes that the alert game is only played when their handler has a seizure and the scent is present. Once the dog has this epiphany, they realize that each time they identify the chemical changes happening in their handlers body by scent they get to play the alert game, and they go paw at their handlers leg. While the handler knows that this signal means they are about to have a seizure, the dog is merely excited to play “the alert game” and earn the reward!
All that is required in a seizure alert dog is that they are observant of their surroundings and enjoy food. We no longer have to guess which dogs might be anxious enough to alert naturally and then hope that they inadvertently learn how to alert in a way that the handler can recognize. We truly hope that more trainers pick up on this and begin to use our methods, because we are here to help as many people as possible.