They make great pets and loyal companions, but did you know dogs can also be trained to help people with epilepsy? Although service dogs are often associated with people who have visual impairments, seizure alert dogs are becoming more and more popular around the world. Their calm demeanour and safety training gives people the confidence to live independently.
Myth: Seizure alert dogs are trained to detect oncoming seizures.
Trainers cannot teach a dog to detect seizures, though some dogs may have this intuition. Instead, seizure alert dogs can protect the person having a seizure by helping them to avoid injury when wandering. This can be immensely reassuring for people who avoid activities because they fear having a seizure in public. Service dogs can help by keeping their handlers safe during and after a seizure. For this reason, some trainers prefer to call these dogs seizure assist dogs.
Some common tasks that trainers can teach the dog include:
- staying close to the person with epilepsy to prevent injury
- fetching medication or a telephone
- alerting a caretaker
- activating an emergency call system (e.g. pushing a Lifeline button)
- "blocking" a wandering person (usually during absence seizures and complex partial seizures) from walking into dangerous areas (Keep in mind that dogs cannot tell whether an action, like walking onto a street or down the stairs, is intentional or not.)
Training can take six months to two years depending on the specific tasks the dog must learn. This intensive training is reflected in the cost of seizure alert dogs which can be $10,000 to $25,000.
For more information:
- Canada's Guide to Dogs - learn more about seizure alert dogs
- Lion's Foundation of Canada - provides financial assistance for people who require seizure dogs ]
- Frequently asked questions about seizure response dogs (PDF)
If you have further questions about seizure alert dogs, please contact:
Alex Ivic – Client Services Supervisor, Lion's Foundation of Canada
Phone: 905-842-2891 ext 222
Toll-free: 1-800-768-3030 ext 222
Reprinted in part from Epilepsy Ontario.