How to Train Your Dog to Alert for Seizures

Hard
6-48 Months
Work

Introduction

Every parent dreads not being able to help when their child is in grave danger. For moms and dads of kids with epilepsy, this fear is something that they have to live with day in and day out. Even letting their son or daughter play in the backyard can stir up feelings of anxiety.

A seizure assistance dogs can take the worry out of everyday life if your family is affected by epilepsy. Our canine friends are much more than just cute, furry faces. You can buy a pre-trained pooch (for a fairly hefty sum) or you can embark on teaching a dog how to properly react to a seizure.

Defining Tasks

A dog's nose is so much better at smelling than a human's. They can actually tell when a seizure is about to happen by the scent of the chemicals released inside the victim. Once a pup has seen a seizure take place, they can be trained to soften the fall of the person, or to go alert another human by barking.

Many canines will respond or alert to a seizure without any training at all, however properly teaching a dog what to do greatly increases how effective they will be for the task. Buying a dog who is already trained can cost up to $20,000, giving you some more motivation to try some teaching yourself. The process can take anywhere from 6 months up to 2 years, and works best if your pooch is exposed to someone who has at least three episodes a month.

Getting Started

To help kickstart your training process, there are some things you're going to need. These include:

  • The Right Dog: Certain breeds do better at this kind of thing than others. Beyond that, each dog's individual personality also impacts on whether they would make a good service dog or not.
  • Professional Help: Whether you work with an organization or you hire a trainer with experience dealing with epilepsy assistance, you're going to want to work with someone who knows what they're doing. The way that your dog responds could really be life or death for the person involved.
  • Treats: As with any type of conditioning, treats will be your new best friend. Try to find a large bag of small treats for the most effective use.

Remember, teaching your dog to alert while someone is having a seizure is not a small feat. It's going to take a lot of time and determination for this training to be complete.

Below are some methods that will help you on your way to shaping an amazing service animal.

The Positive Reinforcement Method

Most Recommended
5 Votes
Positive Reinforcement method for Alert for Seizures
Step
1
Have the dog around
Once again, you need to make sure that your pooch sees as many seizures as possible during training.
Step
2
Make the seizure "fun"
It sounds backwards, but if you want your dog to be as alert as possible to a seizure, you need to help them anticipate the event.
Step
3
Use treats and praise
As soon as your pup shows that they know a seizure is coming, try to make it a big deal and give them tons of praise.
Step
4
Keep doing this
For the training to be effective, you're likely going to have to work at it for months on end.
Step
5
Maximize exposure
The more seizures that your dog experiences and that you have a chance to reward, the more deeply ingrained the reaction will be.
Recommend training method?

The Stay Close Method

Effective
2 Votes
Stay Close method for Alert for Seizures
Step
1
Grab the treats
Make sure you have the bag of treats with you at all times that your dog is near the seizure patient.
Step
2
Reward clinginess
Toss over some treats and praise your good pup whenever he gets up close to this person.
Step
3
Do this a lot
Constantly encourage your doggo to be by the victim's side so that he starts to pick up in all of their little subtleties.
Step
4
Ensure he sees a seizure
Always have the dog around, so that he can witness a real seizure.
Step
5
Repeat!
After the first seizure, continue to praise him for all contact. Once he has been through several seizures with the person, he should recognize what's about to happen and alert you in some way.
Recommend training method?

The Watch Her Method

Least Recommended
2 Votes
Watch Her method for Alert for Seizures
Step
1
Let your dog see a seizure
Have your pupper be there during an entire seizure. The closer the better (while still keeping her safe).
Step
2
Do it again
Try to keep your dog close to the person prone to seizures so that she witnesses a few more.
Step
3
Watch her
After she's seen enough to understand what follows those initial warning signs, watch her closely at the beginning of the next seizure.
Step
4
Learn her signal
At first, it might be something as little as a nudge, but most likely she will exhibit some behavior when she suspects a seizure is imminent.
Step
5
Work to make it obvious
Once you know her warning sign, reward the behavior and work to make it more noticeable. You could teach her to speak each time she shows her signal, until she learns to bark at the beginning of the episode.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Zucko
Bernese Mountain Dog
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Zucko
Bernese Mountain Dog
8 Weeks

I don’t have a dog yet. I have been an epileptic for 15 years and I am controlled with medication for my grandmal seizures. I also have Myoclonic Seizures with my eyes. So I was wondering if I trained a puppy to help steer me out of the sun since I am triggered by light into the shade or away from flashing lights. Possibly even train a puppy to help me if I were to have a Grandmal seizure by helping to break my fall or curling up under my head. I have very violent seizures. I just wanted to know if that would be possible even though my Grandmal seizures are controlled. I do have children and I am home by myself a lot and I just want to make sure that if I am out with them or home by myself I am not totally alone without help.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
708 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kasey, At least part of what you are wanting to train is likely doable. Since you don't have the seizures often and don't want to have to have them in order to train, you would have to replicate what you look like when you have a seizure, rather than train pup to detect your scent during one. You would need to teach pup to direct you out of the sun on cue, then you would add acting like you are having a seizure to the cue, then phase out the cue so that you acting like you are having a seizure would become the cue to redirect you from the sun. For the breaking your fall, you could teach pup to stand behind you when you begin to act like you are having a seizure. You would need a large dog with a high pain tolerance, in order for them not to be deterred by your weight landing on them - it would need to not hurt pup but just be hard pressure, which is specific to how sensitive and large pup is - this would be a little harder to train depending on the dog, and them cooperating would need to be heavily rewarded so they would still be motivated to do it even with you ending up on them. You might be able to train pup to drag something under your head, like a soft purse you carry, with the head convulsions while lying on the ground as a cue to do that - again, starting with a cue, then adding the movement of your head to the cue, then phasing out the verbal cue and having the head movements be the cue. You would likely need a second person for this training, so one could act out the lying on the ground movement, while the other rewards pup for dragging something under the head. Depending on pup's size and any possible pain involved with curling under your head (and fitting right so that they don't lift the head too high and cause your air to be cut off, the curling could likely be taught with the right dog, but with a small dog is may cause too much pain, and with a larger dog might lift the head too much, so that will simply take some trial and error with training to see whether that's an option with the dog you choose - an item like a padded purse that you carry often, may be easier to teach. I would also add, teaching pup to go fetch help and bring them to you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Zucko's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Cardi
Yorkipoo
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Cardi
Yorkipoo
8 Months

Very friendly. Gets overly excited around visitors.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
708 Dog owners recommended

Hello Edward, I suggest practicing something called "Jazz up and Settle Down". Which is a bit like red light, green light for dogs. During training, get him a little excited, then command "Stop" or something he knows like "Sit", and freeze. Wait and completely ignore him until he calms back down. As soon as he gets calm or sits, praise and give a treat. Tell him "Let's Play!" again, and start playing and getting him a bit excited again. As soon as he starts to get a little worked up (not too much at first), command "Stop" or "Sit" again, then wait, reward with a treat when he calms down, then continue the game after he is rewarded. Repeat this a few times each training session, then end the session (have lots of frequent shorter sessions throughout the day at his age). As he improves, and can really calm down quickly, let him get a bit more excited before calling Stop. Gradually work up to him becoming more and more excited and having to calm down quickly from a higher level of excitement as he improves. Also, understand that this will take some time and practice. Puppies have to learn self-control just like any other skill, while young. This game can help him develop it sooner though. I also suggest teaching the Leave It command, Out - which means leave the area, and working up to pup being able to do a 1 hour place command gradually, from the articles linked below: Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Another good option would be an intermediate obedience class - a good one should specifically work on pup being able to obey basic obedience commands, but with added distractions and difficulty. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Cardi's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Cooper
Chocolate lab
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Cooper
Chocolate lab
7 Months

Our daughter has Absence Epilepsy with mixed tonic clonic seizures. She is 12. This, along with Covid, has presented some challenges for her. School has become difficult, and we have transitioned to home online school. We are hoping that Cooper can be a support for her.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
134 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Your best bet with this is to contact a trainer in your area for more information. Often, there are non-profit organizations that can help you with this, free of charge. You may have to do some digging, but they are out there.

Add a comment to Cooper's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Daisy
Border Collie
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Daisy
Border Collie
2 Years

My dog is in training for sciezure response. I train her myself. She stopped my head from falling on her own once. But I'm not sure where to go from here. She runs away when I fake a sciezure

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
708 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kathryn, I suggest breaking the training down into smaller steps. Begin with slower, gentler versions of your seizure act. Toss pup treats when you first display this behavior, until she is not afraid of it. As she becomes confident, make the seizure act more life-like, only gradually increasing the movement and activity bit by bit while rewarding her for staying engaged. When she can handle your seizure like activity without fear, then fine tune the activity so that pup is only rewarded when you do the seizure act AND pup alerts. The first goal is just getting pup over their fear before you start the alert training part. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Daisy's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Thunder
Labrador
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Thunder
Labrador
8 Weeks

I mainly have absence seizures however when I have a tonic-clonic, I am normally alone and they will go for 20/30 minutes.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
708 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ashleigh, I suggest teaching pup to alert to two things. Teach pup to alert to seizure like movements and teaching pup during non seizure times to go get help when you make those seizure like movements for the tonic clonic seizures mainly. I also suggest taking saliva samples right after a seizure ends, freezing that sample, then later using it teaching pup to get help and alert you whenever pup smells the frozen saliva samples. This helps pup learn to detect your body chemistry changes that sometimes happen right before an oncoming seizure or at least during a seizure - to help pup also learn to alert to the absence seizures, which are likely not associated with your body language as much - although pup might be able to learn to alert to those if you tend to get really rigid or have usual body language then too that pup would be able to detect, that could be mimicked during practice. Once a dog learns to alert to seizure like movements, and alerts to several real seizures with time, some dogs will also begin to alert to the body chemistry changes they discover are associated with an on-coming or active seizure as well on their own. This type of alert is more intuitive and dependent on the dog's natural ability, but it starts with teaching pup to alert to things like saliva and mimicking seizure like activity. Have those who have witnessed your seizures show you what movements or body language are associated with the seizures to practice those things with pup. If there is anything very noticeable about the absence seizures you can teach that body language to pup also, like if you because unusually rigid for example. Finally, some seizures actually change your body chemistry before symptoms appear - giving a dog the ability to let you know when a seizure is about to come. Other types of seizures don't create changes until symptoms are also present - only giving a dog the ability to get help and not alert you ahead of time. That depends a lot on what your own body is doing. You may or may not be able to teach pup to alert you of an on-coming one, but pup should at least be able to be trained to get help once one is happening. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Thunder's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd