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

ribbon-method-3
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

ribbon-method-1
Effective
3 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

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
Dozer
German Shepherd 1/2 and possibly Lab mix (60 lbs)
6 Months
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Question
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Dozer
German Shepherd 1/2 and possibly Lab mix (60 lbs)
6 Months

A few weeks ago Dozer witnessed a seizure with my grandson. Since that time he is barking excessively and can't be stopped. Any ideas how to stop the barking?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
942 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gail, Is he barking at your grandson specifically, or is your grandson in the home? If it's specific to your grandson, you will want to desensitize pup to being around him again, and eventually re-enact a seizure, rewarding pup for calm responses to the pretend seizure if the seizures are a common occurrence with your grandson and you need pup to stay calm at those times. Assuming your grandson is not living with you and pup is simply overly anxious and reactive because of his experience, I would give pup activities that stimulate him mentally first. To get pup into a working, calmer mindset, where pup is thinking again and less focused on his anxiety. Some ways to do that are: through giving small jobs, having regular training practice where pup is learning new things or building skills with current commands and tricks, incorporating training into things like fetch or walks or earning what pup wants throughout the day by obeying commands first, puzzle toys/dog food stuffed kongs/working for food, or canine sports. You don't need to do all of the above, but I recommend picking a couple of things to stimulate pup mentally, especially having regular training practices because that can be beneficial in other ways too. For the barking specifically, you need a way to communicate with him so I suggest teaching the Quiet command from the Quiet method in the article I have linked below - don't expect this alone to work but it will be part of the puzzle for what I will suggest next. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Next, once pup understands what Quiet means you will choose an interrupter - neither too harsh nor ineffective. A Pet Convincer is one example of an interrupter. A pet convincer is a small canister of pressurized, unscented air that you can spray a quick puff of at the dog's side to surprise them enough to help them calm back down. (Don't use citronella and avoid spraying in the face!). In situations where you know pup will bark or is already barking (catch them before they bark if you can), command "Quiet". If they obey, reward with a treat and very calm praise. If they bark anyway or continue to bark, say "Ah Ah" firmly but calmly and give a brief correction. Repeat the correction each time they bark until you get a brief pause in the barking. When they pause, praise and reward then. Finally, pup probably need to be desensitized, especially around those that pup is feeling anxious around, like your grandson and anyone involved in the situation who was many acting frantic trying to help your grandson. Have those people toss pup a treat whenever pup is acting calm around them or in a room pup associates with the situation. Look at pup's body language and reward calm body language specifically. Keeping interactions calm. You might also find a Pet Tutor or AutoTrainer, programmed to detect when pup is quiet and release a treat at that time, helpful. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Onyx
Boxer
4 Years
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Question
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Onyx
Boxer
4 Years

We noticed he barks when my husband has a seizure and he stay with him while he recuperate from the seizure. LWe were curious if we can offer him further training to certify him as an epilepsy dogas t time he bark at my mother in law like asking her to help my husband.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
942 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shabrezka, A dog who will stay with you and notice the seizure, and provide support like alerting does show promise for official service dog work training. 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 or pawing you 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. Where do you live? 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 with a doctor's note, 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. As a service dog, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog based on pup's behavior. For service dogs, pup's own behavior is what qualifies, plus your need. If pup doesn't do well enough around others for public access or can't be trained to get to that point, you can still teach pup the tasks for seizure alerting, but pup will only be able to assist you in locations where dogs are allowed, like at home and public parks. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Jupiter
Labrador Retriever
1 Year
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Question
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Jupiter
Labrador Retriever
1 Year

My 11 year old has just started and has been diagnosed with epilepsy. Just enquiring about specialised training for our lab. Any advice or contacts would be appreciated.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
942 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kellie, 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 or just during one. If the seizure changes his chemistry before its evident, many dogs can be taught to alert before a seizure has begun. If his 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 your son. He can also be taught to stand behind him to break a fall if he detects an oncoming seizure beginning, or lay partially under him to keep the head off concrete if his seizures are convulsive. Training a dog to alert before a seizure is evident when his 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. This can help your learn to call for help and lie down somewhere safe before the oncoming seizure starts. If his 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 having your son pretend to have a seizure. If this pretending would be stressful to your son, I would teach it with you pretending first, so that then the training just has to be transferred with him pretending and require less practice with your son involved overall. 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 or nudging you, then pup is given that command when they sniff the seizure saliva sample, practicing until pup will Speak or nudge when they sniff the sample before you say Speak or nudge. 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. To qualify as a service dog in the usa, pup would need to learn at least one specialized task, like the above ones mentioned, that help with your son's medical condition, be well trained enough in general to be allowed public access so pup is never a disturbance in public (a canine good citizen class and intermediate obedience class are good places to start for this part), and your sons doctor create a note saying that your son has a medical condition that qualifies for a service dog. There is no official test or certification for service dog qualification in the US. Pup's skills, especially with fantastic overall behavior in public, and your son having a medical need qualify pup. Often its helpful to carry a laminated copy of ADA law, having pup wear a service dog vest, keeping pup's medical vaccination records on hand, and the copy of his doctor's note on hand if you run into issues though. You are not required to disclose what medical condition your son has though, and generally only somewhere like a landlord or airline can ask for a copy of the medical note. https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html The training needed can either be done on your own if you feel up to the challenge, taught yourself with the help of a private trainer to guide you, or sent for training with a board and train program that specializes in such training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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harley
Bullmastiff
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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harley
Bullmastiff
1 Year

what would be best for me to train my dog to do when my wife has a seizure can not find any type of things that would be good to train them to do in the event she has a seizure

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
942 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dustin, A seizure alert dog can be trained to move under her if she is about to fall to break her fall if pup is a larger dog. They can be taught to go get help and bring them back to her. Depending on the type of seizure and whether her body chemistry changes before the seizure is evident, pup may also be able to be trained to alert her of an oncoming seizure so she can lie down and call for help. Seizure task training is generally taught by acting out a seizure and teaching pup to do a certain behavior whenever you act like you are having a seizure, or if the seizures are more frequent by taking saliva samples right after a seizure has passed, while the person's body chemistry is still altered, and teaching pup to detect the scent of the seizure related saliva and alert, get under her, or go get help when they smell that, using a normal saliva sample to help pup learn to differentiate the two. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Mimi
Morkie
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Mimi
Morkie
1 Year

to train to detect seizure

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
942 Dog owners recommended

Hello Felicia, 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 or pawing at you when you say Contact. Then you act out the seizure while saying "Speak"/"Contact", and practice it until pup will bark/paw before you say Speak/contact, 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. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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