Although closely related by responsibilities, seizure response dogs and seizure alert dogs are not the same. So what are the differences?
Seizure alert dogs and seizure response dogs have different roles and require different training and skills. Seizure response dogs attend to their handler after they’ve had a seizure, while seizure alert dogs sense an oncoming seizure and alert their handler. Some dogs are able to perform tasks required of both.
Let’s look at the differences and similarities of service dogs that assist those with seizures.
Who Can Benefit From a Seizure Dog?
Seizures are caused by a number of conditions, with epilepsy probably being the most well known. Seizures can occur as a result of a closed head injury, brain abnormalities, developmental disorders, strokes, or infection. Genetic influence can also cause seizures.
Those who have recurring seizures are best suited to have a seizure service dog. These dogs can be trained to address the specific needs of their handler when a seizure is about to happen or has just happened. Life with recurring seizures can be difficult, and a seizure service dog can assist and help minimize the risks inherent in seizures.
What is a Seizure Response Dog?
A seizure response dog (also known as a seizure assist dog) is a specific type of service dog that helps its handler immediately following a seizure.
These dogs can stay close to the individual for the duration of the seizure, press an emergency alert button, notify a family member of the seizure, fetch a phone or medication, offer comfort, and more. These dogs are highly trained and are capable of opening doors, turning lights on, and preventing injuries.
As you can imagine, a seizure response dog undergoes rigorous training to perform these tasks. They need to be loyal and intelligent dogs that can learn new commands and work independently when needed.
Providing the dog has the proper characteristics and is tractable, they can be trained for this job. Discipline and dedication are required to prevent them from being distracted and wandering off during the critical time of a seizure.
What is a Seizure Alert Dog?
A seizure alert dog works to warn their handler of oncoming seizures before they happen. Most reports of dogs being able to predict their handler’s seizures has been anecdotal. Dog owners claim that their dogs have alerted them to oncoming seizures.
Some have estimated that roughly 15% of dogs have a natural ability to sense oncoming seizures, from either a few seconds to a few hours before they happen. This has not been scientifically proven, however.
Unlike seizure response dogs, seizure alert dogs cannot be trained to sense oncoming seizures. Once a dog has been identified as having the natural ability to sense a seizure about to happen, trainers can then only train them on what to do after that.
There is a lot of confusion about how seizure alert dogs are able to predict seizures. Although some research has been done, a lot remains to be learned as to the actual ways in which dogs sense an oncoming seizure.
Speculation as to how a dog senses a seizure about to happen include:
- A change in smell of the handler’s body chemistry
- Subtle changes in the handler’s behavior
Dogs are masters of studying human’s body language, and they certainly are able to detect very nuanced behavioral changes. A dog that spends a lot of time with a person who has seizures might likely develop a keen recognition of signs of an oncoming seizure that humans (including the person having the seizures) can’t or don’t.
Dogs have been successfully able to sense diabetic changes in blood sugars (diabetic alert dogs are a specific type of service dog), which researchers attribute to changes in body chemistry smell. But nothing has been proven with regard to dogs sensing changes in smell with seizures.
Seizure alert dogs are said to display unusual signs and behaviors when they detect a seizure. These can differ from dog to dog, but usually, they are some of the following:
- Pacing back and forth
- Keeping constant eye contact with you
- Acting edgy
The value in a seizure alert dog, of course, is that the handler can put themselves into a safer position and notify others before having a seizure.
A seizure alert dog can be trained to be a seizure response dog as well, performing tasks after the seizure occurs.
Now that we have covered what a seizure response dog and seizure alert dog does, let’s look at some of their differences.
Differences Between Seizure Response Dogs and Seizure Alert Dogs
The first and most obvious difference is that these dogs have different roles. A seizure alert dog is there to warn their handler of upcoming seizures, giving one time to prepare and protect themself.
As explained earlier, seizure alert dogs can often notify others of a seizure and provide assistance to the seizing individual where necessary, but that isn’t their main goal. Instead, their focus is notifying the person that they are about to have a seizure and giving them time to prepare.
Seizure response dogs, on the other hand, jump into action during and after the seizure. Their purpose is to provide essential aftercare. They can notify others and bring life-saving medication while one is seizing or afterward.
As they have different roles, seizure alert and response dogs undergo different training. When it comes to seizure alert dogs, there is much debate about whether they can be trained to sense seizures or not.
It’s generally accepted that a dog detecting a seizure before it happens is a natural ability rather than a teachable one. Instead, their training focuses on honing this skill and indicating to their owner that an oncoming seizure has been detected.
Seizure response dogs can definitely be trained to recognize what a seizure looks like and provide the necessary responses that suit their owner.
As long as the dog is intelligent and displays other common traits we see in service dogs, they can be trained to respond to seizures. Thus, there are more seizure response dogs available than seizure alert dogs.
While their roles and training are different, seizure response dogs and seizure alert dogs both share the goal of improving the life of an individual with regular seizures. Whether they can only perform one role or a combination of the two, seizure dogs can make a significant positive impact on their handler’s life.