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 Stay Close Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
4 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 Positive Reinforcement Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
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 Watch Her Method

ribbon-method-2
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?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/11/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kugar
Xl bully
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Kugar
Xl bully
1 Year

I have epilepsy and she supports me and uses herself as a pillow from my head I was wondering if there was any sort of tests I could put her through and somehow get a certificate so she can actually become my support dog

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Flora, In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. The hardest part of service dog qualifiication is usually the public access part. Pup's own great behavior and manners allows them to be in public. If pup is at all reactive toward people or other animals or situations then pup can legally be asked to leave. I don't know where pup is at with their overall behavior and training, but this is most likely the area I would concentrate on pup's training, since it sounds like you already have taught pup at least one task that directly helps your condition and you have a qualifying medical condition. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily. For rental property that's making a no pet policy exception for a service dog and airplanes, you will need to provide pup's vet papers and a note from your doctor stating your medical need for a service dog and have to disclose a little more information than in most public places. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nova
Siberian Husky
5 Months
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Question
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Nova
Siberian Husky
5 Months

I AM the seizure patient and need to train Nova to alert to my seizures - my seizures aren't as sporadic as when I was young, but still sneak up if I miss my medication.

I also got her to be my psychiatric service dog for my anxiety and depression - but don't have the slightest clue where to start.

My big problem is, I don't know when a seizure or anxiety/depression episode is coming. My seizures I know after the seizure is done and I'm in the floor and the anxiety/depression episodes I don't know until I'm shaking and hyperventilating.

What can I do as far as training Nova?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brianna, As you know, there are different types of seizures. Some types will cause chemical changes in the body before the seizure is evident, and some don't until the seizure is evident. What a dog can be trained to do partially depends on whether something happens in your body before the seizure is evident. If the seizure changes your chemistry before its evident, many dogs can be taught to alert before a seizure has begun. If your chemistry doesn't change until after the seizure is evident, then the dog can only be taught to alert people that one is actively happening to you. Training a dog to alert before one is evident when your body chemistry changes is often done by taking saliva samples right after a seizure and teaching pup to perform an alert like barking whenever they smell a saliva sample taken after a seizure, opposed to your normal daily saliva samples pup is taught not to alert to. If your body chemistry doesn't change, or if you want to train pup to also alert when one is actively happening - like to get help, then you can either teach pup to alert with a saliva scent sample or by pretending to have a seizure. Pup is taught an alert on cue, like Barking when you say speak. Then you act out the seizure while saying "Speak", and practice it until pup will bark before you say Speak, when you just pretend to have the seizure. For scent detection, pup is taught an alert on cue like Speak, then pup is given that command when they sniff the seizure saliva sample, practicing until pup will Speak when they sniff the sample before you say Speak. There is a lot of practice then helping pup be able to do it reliably and only when the sample or situation mimics a seizure, and not at other times. Some dogs are able to detect anxiety based on scent too. This is done using saliva samples taken during times of high anxiety. The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample, give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during anxious times and saliva samples taken during normal times are practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the anxious sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. You can also teach pup to alert to your anxious "cues", finding things you tend to do while anxious, like bite nails, rub arms, wiggle a leg, ect...Those cues will be unique to you and probably subtle. Pay attention to what yours are. Once you know them, teach pup to alert you whenever you do those things so that pup will also alert when you do them subconsciously while anxious. Because you are wanting to train for multiple things, I would train just one medical alert at a time to avoid confusion. Pick whichever medical alert is most needed soonest, and work on that until pup is reliable in real life with that alert, then begin the training for the other medical alert or assistance task. The alert mentioned above, is what's often taught for anxiety alert task training. You can also teach additional things that benefit you though, such as pup doing pressure therapy - like pup lying on you. Leading to exits during times of high anxiety. Helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety. Lying under your legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, as a few examples. For the seizure alert, pup could also be taught to go get help and bring them back, or fetch a medication. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. At this age, I would start by working on pup's socialization and working up to an intermediate or advanced level of obedience, with lots of practice with socializing and obedience in public places. The task training can always be taught closer to a year if you don't have time for everything, but the socialization window will close with time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Lola
Boxer
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lola
Boxer
8 Years

Diagnosed by the Dr, Seizure disorder. Is it possible to train my dog on my own or do I need assistance ?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Richard, There are a lot of owner-trainers, who learn how to train their own dogs as service dogs. It certainly can and has been done. The answer to your question depends a lot on your time, willingness and knack for training, and the specific dog you want to train. A dog will need to be taught the task training for seizure alert but pup will also need to learn public access training - which is general manners and a high level of general obedience, so that pup can accompany you to public places without being a disruption. If you are considering training your current dog, I would honestly consider getting a second dog and starting from puppihood. It generally takes about two years to fully train a service dog. Seizure detection is mostly scent based, so a ten year old dog might not be capable of being a reliable service dog for you in two years, at least for very long. It might be worth looking into a younger dog, who has a parentage background that shows promise for service dog work, like previous litter siblings that become service dogs, parent's who have done search and rescue or therapy work successfully, and having a good breeder help you choose the puppy who shows the most promise - which would be one who is neither timid nor aggressive and overly dominant, but people oriented, smart, motivated, and middle of the road with dominance/submissiveness. A pup who bounces back from surprises and adapts well. You would then spend the first year working on obedience until pup had at least an intermediate level, and doing tons of socialization so pup could adapt to all sorts of situations well in the future and focus on you and feel confident around new things. The task training specific to alerts is usually started around 9 months old, but it can be started sooner. When pup is really young, you can play scent finding games to help pup practice using their nose too. There are different types of seizures. There are those that cause chemical changes in the body before the seizure is evident, and those that don't until the seizure is evident. What a dog can be trained to do partially depends on whether something happens in your body before the seizure is evident. If the seizure changes your chemistry before its evident, many dogs can be taught to alert before a seizure has begun. If your chemistry doesn't change until after the seizure is evident, then the dog can only be taught to alert people that one is actively happening to you. Training a dog to alert before one is evident when your body chemistry changes is often done by taking saliva samples right after a seizure and teaching pup to perform an alert like barking whenever they smell a saliva sample taken after a seizure, opposed to your normal daily saliva samples pup is taught not to alert to. If your body chemistry doesn't change, or if you want to train pup to also alert when one is actively happening - like to get help, then you can either teach pup to alert with a saliva scent sample or by pretending to have a seizure. Pup is taught an alert on cue, like Barking when you say speak. Then you act out the seizure while saying "Speak", and practice it until pup will bark before you say Speak, when you just pretend to have the seizure. For scent detection, pup is taught an alert on cue like Speak, then pup is given that command when they sniff the seizure saliva sample, practicing until pup will Speak when they sniff the sample before you say Speak. There is a lot of practice then helping pup be able to do it reliably and only when the sample or situation mimics a seizure, and not at other times. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Darcy
Labradoodle
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Darcy
Labradoodle
7 Years

Darcy is a family pet and for the past couple of years will lay across my knee if I start twitching usually before I have seizure. When I have had my seizure and I come back around she is usually laid next to me. Would I be able to train her as an epilepsy dog and take her places with me so that she can warn others if I have a seizure or twitch whilst out on my own? If so would I be able to just get some things to go on her harness?
Thankyou Rebecca

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Becky, Pup likely needs a good bit of additional training, but a dog who will stay with you and notice and provide support does show promise. Some seizures cause chemical changes in the body before the seizure is evident, and some don't cause chemical changes until the seizure is evident. What a dog can be trained to do partially depends on whether something happens in your body before the seizure is evident, allowing pup to smell or notice oncoming changes ahead of time. If the seizure changes your chemistry before its evident, many dogs can be taught to alert before a seizure has begun. If your chemistry doesn't change until after the seizure is evident, then the dog can only be taught to alert other people that one is actively happening to you or provide that person with support during one. Since you notice pup on your knees beforehand it sounds like pup is detecting yours at least a bit ahead of time. Training a dog to alert when the person's body chemistry changes is often done by taking saliva samples right after a seizure while your chemistry is still different than none-seizure chemistry and teaching pup to perform an alert like going to get help or pawing you whenever they smell a saliva sample taken after a seizure opposed to the normal daily saliva samples pup is taught not to alert to. If your body chemistry doesn't change ahead of time, or if you want to train pup to also alert when one is actively happening - like to get help, then he can either teach pup to alert with a saliva scent sample or by acting out a seizure. Pup is taught an alert on cue, like Barking when you say speak, or to go to someone you are practicing with (changing out that person as pup learns, to pup can do to many new people for help), or nudging when you say "touch"; you then act out the seizure while saying "Speak", and practice it until pup will bark before you say Speak when you just pretend to have the seizure, so the acting itself becomes the cue. For scent detection, pup is taught an alert on cue like Speak or going to a person and leading them back to you, then pup is given that command when they sniff the seizure saliva sample, rewarding pup with a treat whenever they do it correctly, practicing until pup will Speak automatically when they sniff the sample before you say Speak. There is a lot of practice then that takes place, helping pup be able to do it reliably and only when the sample or situation mimics a seizure, and not at other times. This includes planting the sample on the person, like in a pocket, practicing at random times and in various locations, and generally changing the distraction level and variables until pup is reliable no matter what's going on. To become a service dog who could be with you in public, pup would also need to practice their manners, socialization and general obedience to a high enough level that they would be allowed public access too. A canine Good citizen class and intermediate obedience class can be good places to start on those skills. If pup is a disruption in public you can be legally asked to leave by owner. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public (no reactivity or aggression period!), and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is what is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone unless you chose to), and a vest letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Pup's behavior and task training is what will qualify them for you. If pup's behavior and task training is lacking, pup won't qualify and can be asked to leave. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nezuko
Cheagle
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Nezuko
Cheagle
7 Months

How do I start her training for seziers

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tayla, There are different types of seizures. There are those that cause chemical changes in the body before the seizure is evident, and those that don't until the seizure is evident. What a dog can be trained to do partially depends on whether something happens in your body before the seizure is evident. If the seizure changes your chemistry before its evident, many dogs can be taught to alert before a seizure has begun. If your chemistry doesn't change until after the seizure is evident, then the dog can only be taught to alert people that one is actively happening to you. Training a dog to alert before one is evident when your body chemistry changes, is often done by taking saliva samples right after a seizure and teaching pup to perform an alert like barking whenever they smell a saliva sample taken after a seizure, opposed to your normal daily saliva samples pup is taught not to alert to. If your body chemistry doesn't change, or if you want to train pup to also alert when one is actively happening - like to get help, then you can either teach pup to alert with a saliva scent sample or by pretending to have a seizure. Pup is taught an alert on cue, like Barking when you say speak. Then you act out the seizure while saying "Speak", and practice it until pup will bark before you say Speak, when you just pretend to have the seizure. For scent detection, pup is taught an alert on cue like Speak, then pup is given that command when they sniff the seizure saliva sample, practicing until pup will Speak when they sniff the sample before you say Speak. There is a lot of practice then helping pup be able to do it reliably and only when the sample or situation mimics a seizure, and not at other times. Pup will also need to be trained for public access, which can actually take more time than the task training for seizure alert. Pup needs to be able to be calm, focused on you, and not disruptive around other people, animals, noises, locations, and smells, so will be allowed to go with you into public places and qualify as a service dog (a disruptive service dog can legally be asked to leave the premises. Pup's manners, task training, and your medical need are what qualify pup in the US). A good place to start for public access is by joining group classes such as intermediate obedience, canine good citizen, and off leash obedience, depending on pup's current level of training. A canine Good Citizen and more advanced obedience class should specifically focus on practicing pup's obedience around distractions. Socialization is EXTREMELY important for a service dog so be sure to make that a continued priority, even though you will be teaching pup to stay focused on you and not say hi to everyone, pup needs to be confident around others and not suspicious or fearful, and to be adaptable to a lot of different situations. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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