Of all the service dog training organizations located throughout the United States, less than 20 train seizure assist dogs. Reputable trainers do not guarantee that a dog will alert its owner of an impending seizure. The dogs are instead trained to respond with specific behaviors when the event occurs. Professional training typically takes up to two years and may cost anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000.
Innate Alert Ability
Many people diagnosed with seizure disorders report owning a dog that alerts them before a seizure occurs. In these instances, the dog has a natural ability and has not been trained to perform. In most cases, the dog has been a family pet for an extended period of time and is accustomed to the owner's normal scent and mannerisms. Animal behaviorists suspect that some dogs may smell chemical changes that occur in the body anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before the event takes place. Dogs might also pick up on physical movements that are not readily detected by humans. When the alert dog senses seizure activity, owners report that the pet then displays various behaviors that include:
• Making direct and prolonged eye contact
• Pawing at their owner
• Barking nervously
• Circling or pacing around their owner
• Incessant licking
• Displaying other restless behaviors
Initially, owners may not make the connection between the dog's behavior and an impending seizure. However, after a series of episodes and the alert is recognized, owners commonly respond by lying down until the episode subsides.
Service Dog Training
Taking the animal into public places requires that the dog have a firm command of obedience training. The dogs must respond to basic commands and be socialized to ensure that they behave appropriately in public. Professional seizure response training varies depending on the needs of the client. Larger dogs may roll a patient to ensure a patent airway. Others are trained to use a call button or K9 phone to call for help. Dogs might also guard a seizure patient from potential hazards by blocking access to stairways or walking into intersections.
Federal law does not stipulate that assistance dogs be certified. Some owners purchase specially designed vests or capes that alert the public that the animal is necessary for disability assistance. Patches are affixed to the garment that request the dog not be interfered with as it is a working dog. Patches also display the fact that the animal is used for seizure alert or response duty.
Dog owners can also response train their dog with help from Assistance Dog International or by getting guidance from a professional assistance dog trainer. In this way, a professional trainer can administer a public access test and provide the proper documentation that the human/dog team meets the criteria as set forth by the ADI.