Kids love dogs. For kids with epilepsy, specially trained dogs can return that love and also keep them safe. Seizure dogs wear special vests to identify them as service animals. According to the American Disabilities Act, service animals may go anywhere the child goes, such as into restaurants, malls and grocery stores. If your child suffers from seizures, the following gives brief descriptions on seizure response and seizure alert dogs, a breakdown on preferred breeds, and an explanation on how these animals are typically trained.
Difference between a Seizure Response Dog and a Seizure Alert Dog
Seizure response and seizure alert dogs have different jobs. Seizure response dogs are trained to perform certain tasks when their owners are having a seizure. Some dogs are taught to find help from family members when a child seizes, whether by barking or searching from room to room.
Seizure response dogs may also learn to lie next to the child when they are having a seizure. If a child is on top of a bed or sitting on a sofa, the dog can help keep him from falling out. The dog may also remove toys or other objects away from the child. In an outdoor setting, that dog may also put itself between the child and sharp or hard objects, such as the edges of playground equipment.
Dogs can also be trained to push buttons that activate alarm systems, such as those medical alert systems where the owners wear special necklaces that have alert buttons. Some dogs even learn to push a pre-programmed button on a phone. When the seizure ends, the dog helps the child come around. As the child recovers, having his dog lying next to him and providing comfort.
On the other hand, seizure alert dogs have the ability to sense when a child is going to have a seizure. This is an innate ability that can't be trained, nor is it fully understood. One suggestion is that the dog picks up on certain scents. Another is that the dog notices slight behavioral changes.
Dogs that have this ability can be trained to alert the child, perhaps by pawing, barking or licking. This usually tells the child to get to a safe place and lie down before the seizure starts. Seizure alert dogs do receive training in alerting the family, sitting with the child, pushing special buttons to summon help and helping the child calmly wake up.
Preferred Breeds for Seizure Assistance Dogs
Temperament is often more important than the breed when selecting a dog for seizure response training. The dog must be friendly, non-aggressive towards people and other dogs and be sensitive to people's emotions
Dogs that are super sensitive to the chemical and emotional changes in a person prior to a seizure include German shepherds, golden retrievers and mixed breeds that have setter, border collie or Samoyed blood. Poodles are also a good choice because they are smart and hypoallergenic. Though poodles do shed, the hair usually gets caught up in the curly coat, which also traps dog dander.
Sometimes dogs are donated from breeders or rescued from shelters. At times, a child's own pet will display the natural alerting abilities. After training, that pet can become a certified service animal.
Typical Training for Seizure Dogs
Puppies typically go to foster homes for their first year. This helps them become socialized and used to being in different environments, all part of their "basic training." Foster parents teach them commands such as sit, stay and come, as well as how to walk properly on a leash.
Next, the dogs go back to the training facility for evaluations and medical exams. Dogs that pass typically go through six months of training before being placed. The dog, the new owner, and the trainer then spend time together, usually for about three weeks. This provides additional training for both owner and dog, and allows time for the pair to bond.
To learn more about the process, visit resources like Seizuredog.co.