Image courtesy of Claire Goodfriend
We know that some dogs are capable of alerting their handlers of seizures, but many people ask, “can a seizure alert be trained?”
The answer is, no; a seizure alert cannot be trained. There are two types of seizure-related service dogs: seizure alert dogs, and seizure response dogs. Seizure alert dogs are very rare. There are so few of these dogs that are known to exist, that it makes it very difficult to estimate how many seizure alert dogs there really are in the world. Some scientists believe that dogs cannot predict seizures, but there are medical studies that say otherwise. These dogs have a natural instinct to predict an oncoming seizure, and that instinct can be shaped into a trained task. They may also provide the same assistance tasks that a seizure response does.
“A seizure alert cannot be trained…”
However, seizure response dogs are becoming more common. These dogs are trained to alert another person of a handler’s seizure, comfort the handler during and after a seizure (must not be the main “task” as providing comfort is not considered a task under the ADA), call for help via a special button, retrieve a phone so a handler can call for help, help protect the head of a handler who is seizing, etc.
Currently, there is no scientific evidence that suggests a seizure alert/prediction can be trained through scent training or other methods. The alert/prediction must be a skill that the dog naturally possesses. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to hone this natural ability into a reliably trained task. Utilizing a professional trainer (especially one who specializes in service dogs) will be most helpful in achieving a reliable seizure alert, but is still not guaranteed. The most important parts of shaping a natural seizure alert/prediction are handler awareness, keeping a log of the behavior or alerts, and tracking the reliability and response rate of the alert.
There are some service dog programs and organizations that claim they can train a dog to perform seizure alerts. I can safely say that a majority of these claims from these organizations are false, and are not backed by scientific evidence. There is no specific breed of dog that consistently presents individual dogs with natural alerts, a natural alert cannot be guaranteed through selective breeding, and a seizure alert/prediction cannot be trained via scent training or other methods. Save your money and do not purchase a seizure alert service dog from a program or organization, but rather look for programs or organizations that train seizure response dogs. Always be cautious and check reviews from multiple sources, look over applications and contracts carefully, and thoroughly vet each program or organization that may provide you with your service dog.
Listed below are some articles/studies about seizure alert and/or response dogs. Some of these articles have a very skeptical outlook on whether or not dogs can alert at all, but still give the possibility some leeway. However, all of these writings firmly indicate that seizure alerts cannot be trained, but are a natural instinct found in very few dogs. It’s actually an incredibly rare trait for a dog to possess.
Hopefully this article has provided good insight about seizure alert dogs, seizure response dogs and the differences between the two. These dogs truly are very special animals, but it is important to know that the handler’s safety comes first – finding a seizure alert dog is incredibly rare, so it is better to look for a reliably trained seizure response dog instead of a seizure alert dog.