What Are Seizure Dogs?

Seizure dogs alert people with epilepsy to an oncoming seizure. First discovered in the 1980s, studies regarding these dogs came later in the 1990s. The University of Florida teamed up with the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida found that approximately 10 percent of the 31 interviewed did feel their dogs knew when they were about to have a seizure. Of the 31 respondents, 90 percent said their dog always stayed near them during a seizure.

Since this study, there has been a lot of interest in pairing a seizure alert dog with an epileptic patient. Both for the patient's safety and comfort.

Breeds that Make Good Seizure Dogs

A number of breeds make great seizure alert dogs. Many of them are cross-breeds that share the best qualities of more than one breed. Professional seizure alert dog trainers usually stick to easily trained breeds like Labrador retrievers.

The key to a good seizure alert dog involves having a breed that is gentle with all ages and friendly, even in public places. Dogs that are aggressive with other animals, highly protective and nervous or shy when meeting new people are best avoided.

Typical Response of a Seizure Alert Dog

When a dog notices his owner's behavior is changing, the response differs. Some dogs will gather comforting items like toys, pillows or blankets and lay them near the owner. Other dogs simply glue themselves to their owner's side waiting for the seizure to occur.

One behavior that is worth teaching is to have your dog start barking when the seizure is about to happen or is occurring. This action alerts neighbors, friends, family members or caregivers that you need medical assistance. The more noise the dog makes, the quicker help can reach you. If the dog senses the seizure before it occurs, you'll have time to move to a safer area eliminating the risk of toppling furniture and lamps during the seizure.

Methods for Training a Seizure Response Dog

Animal experts believe the most effective seizure dogs are those who have been raised by their master. The close bond allows the animal to sense minute changes in the dog owner's behavior signaling the onset of an epileptic seizure.

Some still believe the best way to train a seizure response dog is by having him spend time with an epileptic patient and then reward the dog with treats when a seizure occurs. The dog associates remaining by the patient during the seizure with a tasty treat. Eventually, the dog watches for subtle changes in behavior that may signify a treat will soon follow. This training takes time and also requires an epileptic patient to have to endure seizures periodically while the dog is in training.

Where to Look for Seizure Dogs

It's getting easier to find seizure dogs due to their growing popularity. A number of organizations can help you locate a seizure alert dog that fits into your lifestyle and aids you when needed.

Organizations like Paws with a Cause, Delta Society, American Dog Trainers Network and Assistance Dogs International will help you find the perfect pet.