How to Train Your Dog to Detect Panic Attacks

Hard
6-9 Months
Work

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.


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.

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.

The Associate with Reward Method

Most Recommended
12 Votes
Step
1
Choose cue
Identify a panic attack symptom, for example scratching, touching face, or fidgeting.
Step
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.
Step
3
Practice
Present symptoms and when the dog attends you and the symptoms, reward.
Step
4
Teach alert
Teach your dog an alert such as a nudge and put it on a verbal command.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
7
Practice
Practice in a variety of situations and environments with distractions.
Recommend training method?

The Associate with Alert Method

Effective
4 Votes
Step
1
Reward alert
Teach an alert behavior such as a nose nudge. Capture the behavior and reward with treats.
Step
2
Command alert
Now add a verbal cue for the behavior.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
5
Provide cue
Act out the panic attack symptom and give the verbal cue for an alert.
Step
6
Practice
Reward your dog when he performs the alert and the cue is present. Repeat, practice often for several weeks.
Step
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.
Step
8
Vary and practice
Practice in different places and positions, providing the cue and rewarding alert. Ignore false alerts.
Recommend training method?

The Clicker Training Method

Least Recommended
4 Votes
Step
1
Capture alert
Capture an alert behavior such as nudging your hand. Mark with a clicker and provide a treat as a reward.
Step
2
Verbally command
Associate a verbal command such as “nudge”. When the dog nudges, mark with clicker and provide treat.
Step
3
Add cue
Manifest a panic attack symptom. Use the verbal command and mark with clicker when your dog alerts appropriately.
Step
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.
Step
5
Remove clicker
Manifest the panic attack symptom and reward alert behavior without the clicker. Ignore alert behavior when panic symptoms are not present.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Ellie Mae
American Bulldog Shepherd
1 Year
-1 found helpful
Question
-1 found helpful
Ellie Mae
American Bulldog Shepherd
1 Year

Picture is my pup in CGC class. We are taking the test soon. However I am wanting to make her an ESA and to detect when my anxiety peaks or is about to go into an attack. I have frequent anxiety attacks and only a few panic attacks. I want to know how to best train her for these things.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brandice, It looks like your question was double submitted. I just wanted to let you know that I answered the first copy, so that you will see my response there. Have a wonderful day. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ellie Mae
American Bulldog Shepherd
1 Year
3 found helpful
Question
3 found helpful
Ellie Mae
American Bulldog Shepherd
1 Year

Picture is my pup in CGC class. We are taking the test soon. However I am wanting to make her an ESA and to detect when my anxiety peaks or is about to go into an attack. I have frequent anxiety attacks and only a few panic attacks. I want to know how to best train her for these things.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brandice, Becoming Canine Good Citizen Certified is a great start since that will encompass most of the skills that you will need. To become an emotional support dog you will want to teach your dog to respond to your anxiety cues. You will want the responses to include interrupting your anxious behavior to help you recognize when you are becoming nervous, and comforting you with physical pressure and contact to help you cope with the anxiety. If you wish for your dog to interrupt you then treat him to bark, whine, nudge, or paw at you whenever you do the things that you tend to do while feeling anxious. Your anxious cues could be: rubbing your arms, wiggling your leg, clenching your fists, tapping your fingers, scratching yourself, holding your head, or holding your chest. Look for what you do whenever you feel anxious and while training reward your dog for alerting you with something like a nudge every time you do something like wiggle your leg. If you wish for your dog to offer comfort then you can train your dog with treats to offer his presence, touch, or pressure. You can train him to stand over you whenever you are sitting on the floor, so that you can pet and hug him. You can also train your dog to push against you for comfort whenever you are feeling nervous. To do that, give him treats for leaning into you whenever you pretend to do something that you know you would do when you were actually anxious, such are rub your arms. Many nervous expressions look like wiggling your leg, scratching your arm, rubbing your arms, tapping your hands, clenching your fists, or holding your head. Look for what you tend to do when you are feeling anxious and teach your dog to respond to those behavior. You can train your dog to lay underneath your legs whenever you sit somewhere like a bench, so that his presence can be comforting but out of the way when in public. His cue for this might be a direct command to go under you, or you could simply reward him for going under the bench anytime you sit somewhere similar to that, so that he will do it automatically. If you feel uncertain how to train your dog, you might want to look into hiring a local trainer or participating in another local training class that focuses on teaching the utility tasks involved in Emotional Support Animal training. Look for someone with success training other Service Dogs, ask for recommendations from previous Service Dog clients if you would like. You can also look up videos online demonstrating how to train many of the specific tasks I mentioned as well as lists of other tasks that you can teach that you might find specifically helpful. Congratulations on your CGC evaluation! That shows a lot of hard work on you and Ellie Mae's part. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Henri
Standard Poodle
5 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Henri
Standard Poodle
5 Months

Hi! I like using treats with a clicker, and I know ther is a clicker method, but I like the treat method better. Can I use the treat method but with the clicker?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dani, You absolutely can use a clicker to train this. Since your dog is already used to the clicker it might even speed up the training for you. To use the clicker simply click as soon as your dog does what you want him to, such as pay attention to your cue initially, do the alert signal when you are teaching it, and alert you when you do the physical cue, such as scratching your arm, without your verbal command. Just remember to click right when your dog does the desired behavior, right before you give the treat. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Minnie Bindi
Teacup Yorkie
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Minnie Bindi
Teacup Yorkie
6 Years

I need someone who can be here with me and help me to guide and train my dog to react and calm me with panic or anxiety attacks before they happen and get worse

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emily, I suggest looking for a private trainer in your city. They are less common, but start googling things like "Service Dog trainer (your city)", "Service dog training (your city)", "Service dog trainer (your state)", "Service dog training (your state)". That should pull up various websites on google. Click on those and pay attention to whether the trainer does private training (comes to your home) and is close enough to where you live to make the drive. Another option is to find a board and train program that you can send your dog to, who will train pup for you, then do just a few private sessions to show you what pup has learned and help the training transfer to you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Amora
German Shepherd husky
3 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Amora
German Shepherd husky
3 Months

Hi there! I am training my dog to be a PTSD service animal. I was wondering how to train a dog to detect and alert me to my anxiety and panic attacks before they happen, not during. Much like seizure alert dogs. Thank you!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haelie, First, pay attention to some of the things you do when you feel anxious or nervous, such as rubbing arms, biting nails, wiggling your legs, holding your head, tensing your muscles, or anything else. The signs are going to be specific to you and what you tend to do. Practice doing that behavior - pretending as if you are anxious, and work on teaching her to alert you the way you want her to each time that you do that action or series of actions. You could teach her to nudge you, press up against you, lay her head on your lap, lead you somewhere, or generally interrupt you or comfort you in whatever way you find helpful as her alert cue, and then reward her each time that she does so correctly. Once she knows to alert you when you start behaving a certain way - based on your body language while you are nervous, many Service Dogs will intuitively start recognizing other physiological changes that happen at the same time as the body language cues and may start alerting you when those happen also. These are things like certain hormones that are released that a dog can smell, changes in breathing, sweating, or subtle things you do that you are not aware of. These triggers end up proceeding the panic attack even more, so that the dog can alert earlier than some of the more obvious symptoms like wiggling a leg or tensing up. This requires a dog that is intuitive. When you are feeling nervous you can also tell your dog to give their alert, such as pressure therapy. This is most helpful when the alert is something that helps to calm you so that it is easy to do when you are feeling bad. The more that you tell your dog to do this when you are actually feeling poorly, the more your dog is likely to learn to do it on their own whenever they sense you tensing up, and eventually pick up on other things happening in your body, like changes in hormones too. It starts with teaching your dog how to alert and how to detect more obvious body language changes though, and it does require a dog that is naturally intuitive - many German Shepherds are though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Training Success Stories

Success
Thor
Dachshund
1 Year

I have been suffering from multiple mental illnesses since I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder when I was 19. I was always anxious but only had panic attacks very rarely. As I got older and started nearing my late 20's my panic attacks had become more frequent at a debilitating pace. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Panic Disorder. My doctors both agreed that cognitive behavioral therapy and a therapy dog would help tremendously along with the medications I take so I could go back to living a normal life which included being able to work or even leave my house. My work place, being a restaurant was hesitant to let me have a therapy dog with me while working my shifts but came to the decision that they would allow it if the dog was of a small breed. Thor, my dachshund was given to me by a breeder and family friend when he was 4 months old. After creating a strong bond with him, I began to train him to recognize my panic attack symptoms by using the alert and reward method (with a clicker). Being a puppy it took a longer period of time than I expected (about 7 months to get him to notice my symptoms at the drop of a pin). Now before I even realize I'm having a panic attack he will sit up on his hind legs and hold up a paw. This tells me to get to a place where I feel safe and can take medication. The training wasnt the easiest as Dachshunds tend to be a bit stubborn but when it clicked, it really clicked. He has saved me from multiple attacks in public, at work and even home many times which has made it so much easier for me to function like a normal adult in my daily life. I really dont know what I would do without Thor, he is really my hero. The only problem with having a smaller breed dog as a service dog/emotional support animal is that people have the tendency to want to pet him, give him treats or even pick him up but I have gotten use to explaining that unfortunately that isnt an option for them personally or he will begin to lose his focus on his job. Just wanted to say if youre training your dog to alert you of your panic or anxiety attacks to just be patient. They will get it eventually because they love you and want to make you happy because when youre upset, theyre upset. You can do it!

2 years, 5 months ago
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