Imagine that your best friend can sense when you are about to suffer a seizure, giving you crucial seconds to prepare for or forestall it. If you have epilepsy or another seizure-related disability, that scenario can become reality in the form of a seizure alert dog.
Seizure Alert Dogs
Researchers know that some dogs, regardless of breed, possess the ability to tell when a person is about to suffer a seizure. Exactly how they can tell a seizure is imminent is unclear. Perhaps the person emits a certain smell or exhibits subtle movements. That's conjecture, but what is known is that dogs with this trait begin whining, barking or pawing not long before the seizure occurs. The dog stays with their person when the seizure begins, offering comfort. More importantly, the person knows that a seizure is coming, so he can lie down, inform emergency personnel or otherwise prepare.
It takes a long time and a lot of money to find and train dogs with this talent. Finding dogs with the particular seizure-sensing skill set is labor-intensive, as trainers must carefully watch a dog over time to assess whether the ability is present. Dogs must have good temperaments, and they require other forms of training besides just basic obedience. They might be trained to notify another person in the house, bring a phone to the victim, activate an alert system or provide assistance other ways.
Response or Assistance
Because even well-trained dogs can't be guaranteed to alert a person that a seizure is pending, many trainers and organizations prefer the terms "seizure response" or "seizure assistance" dogs. These dogs might warn you about an impending seizure, or they may come to your aid as the seizure occurs. It's not always the dog's fault -- owners might not realize, especially when they first get their dogs, that a particular behavior is an alerting signal. It may be mistaken for a harmless or even annoying doggie antic.
Many nonprofit, 501(c) 3 organizations train seizure alert dogs for placement with medically qualified patients. Because many patients can't afford to pay for a specially trained dog and government assistance for these dogs is minimal to nonexistent, such organizations hold fundraisers and ask for donations to provide service alert canines to eligible individuals. If you're in need of a seizure alert dog, you might consider seeking sponsorships from local clubs or community organizations to help pay for one.
In order to qualify for a seizure alert dog from a certified organization, you must have a physician-documented disability. General laws on service dogs, including the public places in which they are permitted, vary depending on the state. Individual organizations may have their own criteria, based on a candidate's age, living situation, seizure occurrence and ability to provide for the dog.
It might be possible to purchase a trained service alert dog through a private trainer. Other trainers may claim to teach your own dog to become a service alert dog. Let the buyer beware. It could turn out well or not. The Delta Society lists recommended service dog trainers and programs that maintain certain standards and qualifications.