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How to Train Your Dog to Detect Panic Attacks

How to Train Your Dog to Detect Panic Attacks
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon6-9 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

People who suffer from panic attacks experience debilitating symptoms, including intense fear and discomfort, pounding or accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. Unlike anxiety attacks, which tend to be triggered by a stressor in the environment, panic attacks are unpredictable and arise without warning. Sufferers of panic attacks can end up being limited in their ability to function normally because of an inability to work, attend events, or even perform routine tasks such as shopping or attending appointments.

A service dog trained to detect and warn their hander of an impending panic attack, so that the handler can move to a safe place, take medication, or practice other therapeutic techniques to alleviate the panic attack, can allow a panic attack sufferer to participate in activities they previously were unable to. This improved function can allow them to work, attend functions, and perform daily routine activities with confidence that they have a way of managing their attacks.


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Defining Tasks

A panic attack detection dog alerts their owner when they detect signs of an impending panic attack. Dogs trained to perform this task can detect a panic attack several minutes before the person recognizes the signs, allowing sufferers to remove themselves from a situation, go to a safe place, get medication, or practice relaxation techniques. This gives the panic attack sufferer confidence that they can manage their condition. Panic attack detection dogs can also provide assistance by protecting their handlers with their bodies, leading them to a safe place, notifying a loved one, or fetching/carrying medication or a phone.

Service dogs used for detecting panic attacks should be certified as service dogs to gain access to public places where they will accompany their handlers. A dog with an obedient, calm, gentle temperament in diverse situations and environments, and around different people where many distractions are present, will be required.

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Getting Started

If you suffer from panic attacks, you will need to determine what symptoms specific of your panic attack you will want your dog to alert to. Having a friend or family member video a panic attack may be helpful to identify cues that your dog can be trained to alert to. Cues such as increased heart rate, breathing, or muscle tremors may be useful signs that your dog can be trained to identify that would indicate a panic attack is imminent. You will also determine what sort of alert your dog will perform to let you know that a panic attack is about to occur Many owners have their dog nudge their hand or leg, or put a paw on their leg, to notify them that a panic attack is imminent.

You should investigate certification for service dogs in your area to allow your dog to accompany you in public to places not normally accessible by pet dogs. Obedience and temperament testing will be part of any certification and should be addressed prior to training.

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The Associate with Reward Method

Most Recommended

13 Votes

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Most Recommended

13 Votes

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1

Choose cue

Identify a panic attack symptom, for example scratching, touching face, or fidgeting.

2

Present cue

Present the symptom in the presence of your dog. When your dog pays attention to what is happening, reward him with a treat.

3

Practice

Present symptoms and when the dog attends you and the symptoms, reward.

4

Teach alert

Teach your dog an alert such as a nudge and put it on a verbal command.

5

Associate alert

Present the panic attack symptom and the verbal command for the alert. When the dog practices the alert while you are practicing the symptoms, reward. Ignore alerts without symptoms preset.

6

Remove command

Practice the panic attack symptom, without providing the verbal command for the alert. When the dog alerts to symptoms alone, provide a reward.

7

Practice

Practice in a variety of situations and environments with distractions.

The Associate with Alert Method

Effective

4 Votes

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Effective

4 Votes

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1

Reward alert

Teach an alert behavior such as a nose nudge. Capture the behavior and reward with treats.

2

Command alert

Now add a verbal cue for the behavior.

3

Vary

Change position and train your dog to perform an alert in several different places and while you are sitting or standing in response to a verbal cue.

4

Choose cue

Identify a panic attack symptom, for example scratching, touching face, or fidgeting, which will be your dog’s cue you are about to have a panic attack.

5

Provide cue

Act out the panic attack symptom and give the verbal cue for an alert.

6

Practice

Reward your dog when he performs the alert and the cue is present. Repeat, practice often for several weeks.

7

Remove command

Now manifest panic attack symptom without providing the verbal cue. When your dog manifests the alert behavior in the presence of symptoms, reward.

8

Vary and practice

Practice in different places and positions, providing the cue and rewarding alert. Ignore false alerts.

The Clicker Training Method

Least Recommended

4 Votes

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Least Recommended

4 Votes

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1

Capture alert

Capture an alert behavior such as nudging your hand. Mark with a clicker and provide a treat as a reward.

2

Verbally command

Associate a verbal command such as “nudge”. When the dog nudges, mark with clicker and provide treat.

3

Add cue

Manifest a panic attack symptom. Use the verbal command and mark with clicker when your dog alerts appropriately.

4

Remove verbal command

Manifest the panic attack symptom, but do not give the verbal cue. Continue to mark successful alert behavior with clicker and reward.

5

Remove clicker

Manifest the panic attack symptom and reward alert behavior without the clicker. Ignore alert behavior when panic symptoms are not present.

6

Practice and vary

Practice in lots of different places, positions, and with distractions. Go back to step 3, if necessary, in different distracting situations and proceed through steps until the dog is able to alert to panic attack cues in a variety of circumstances.

Written by Amy Caldwell

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/19/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Sheba

Dog breed icon

Cavoodle

Dog age icon

Two Years

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Question

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I would like to train her as psychiatric dog, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks when outside the home. My panic attacks start with wave of sweat and tightness of chest, dizziness, lack of breath follows. I can't fake those cues to teach her like website says. What do I do. I would like her to comfort me or even better keep people away

Oct. 13, 2023

Sheba's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, be aware that a service dog will attract a lot of attention and may increase public interaction if that's a trigger for you. If that's not an issue, then you can also teach using saliva samples taken. Keep gauze pads and ziploc bags on you at all time for a while. Right after an episode, as soon as you are able, such on a gauze pad then place it into the ziploc bag once soaked, and freeze it. Take several of the samples overtime as you are able. These samples can be used to teach scent detection. You can teach her a cue for something you want her to do that's helpful for you during times of anxiety. Put that action on cue, then begin having her sniff the sample, give her the comfort due (called an alert cue), and reward when she obeys. After a couple of weeks of practice, have her sniff the sample first, wait seven seconds to see if she will remember to do the comfort cue on her own, and if she doesn't then give her the cue - rewarding a lot if she does it without needing the cue after sniffing, and rewarding moderately if she needed the cue. Practice until she starts doing the cue reliably with just the sniff sample, without needing the verbal reminder. Once she understands that that scent means alert, then practice with a normal saliva sample and the sample taken during times of anxiety, only rewarding when she gives the cue when sniffing the anxiety one, ignoring any incorrect alerts. Once she can differentiate between those samples, then hide the sample in a pocket and practice at various times throughout the day, gradually adding more and more distractions to the environment and rewarding when she detects the sample and alerts. Go back a step in training if she starts to struggle and practice at that step longer before progressing again to keep her succeeding. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Nov. 27, 2023

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Blair

Dog breed icon

Great Pyrenees

Dog age icon

Five Years

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Question

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what to train her to help with panic attacts and anxiety

Jan. 4, 2023

Blair's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Are you asking what tasks are usually taught to help with anxiety and panic attacks, or how to teach a task? The most commonly taught task to help with anxiety or panic attacks is to teach pup to alert to your anxious "cues", by finding things you tend to do while anxious, like freezing, clenching, 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. That alert can help interrupt and comfort a person who is approaching a panic attack. Typically that's the initial anxiety alert task trained to qualify pup. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup doing pressure therapy - like pup lying on you. Leading you to exits during times of high anxiety. Helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety. Laying under your legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, or being a brace for you if you get dizzy. 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. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 5, 2023


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