How to Train Your Dog to Detect Panic Attacks

How to Train Your Dog to Detect Panic Attacks
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Time icon6-9 Months
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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.

By Amy Caldwell

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Molly

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Boxer

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2 Years

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Our house was broken into a little over a year ago and my 9 year old (at the time) son was home. Immediately after the break in he was terrified and started having severe, debilitating panic attacks. He was scared of everything!!!! My husband and I went out within days and got him his own dog, Molly, a boxer mix and she is his absolute best friend in the world! Today my son had a panic attack and out of nowhere Molly came running to him. When my son has a panic attack he doesn’t scream or cry or do anything that anyone would recognize as wrong. It just baffled and wondered if Molly picked up on it! After that I started googling “can you train your dog to be a service dog” and came across this website. I was just curious if there was something I could do that would help train her? Although I would LOVE to, I could never afford a service dog or to have our dog professionally trained. Just wondering if it’s possible to do it myself? Thanks in advance for your time! Bridget Dell Slocomb, Alabama 334-258-3125

March 26, 2022

Molly's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Bridget, People train their own dogs to become service dogs all the time. My own sister actually trained her own service dog to help with severe allergy alerts. It is a large commitment and takes on average 1-2 years to fully train one because pup needs to learn not only the task associated with service work but also the social skills and public access manners to be allowed public places. An emotional support animal that isn't allowed public accesses is another option you could train, which doesn't have as high of training requirements but could be very beneficial at home still if that's where the majority of panic attacks happen. First, 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. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - anxiety attacks, depression, PTSD, ect.. should qualify. It sounds like pup would be an excellent candidate in terms of task training - I don't know much about pup's overall manners and socialization, but many dogs learn to alert by scent, which might be what pup is doing. Dogs are also good at detecting subtle body language cues which is something else pup might be picking up on. If you can figure out what cues, even if subtle, that your son does during an panic attack, you can replicate those subtle changes during practice and teach pup to respond to those for future help. How pup is taught to respond depends a lot on what helps your son most and what you wish to teach. Pup learning to get someone else to help, Molly providing a calming presence through actions like pressure therapy, or simply staying with your son to prevent a panic attack if that helps him avoid them, as just a couple examples of things you can teach for psychiatric assistance service dogs. If you pursue trauma therapy with a license therapist at some point, an animal trained for service work or emotional support work can often be a good asset to those appointments, to get the most benefit from combining supports. There are a couple of ways to train the initial detection. Some dogs are able to detect anxiety based on scent. 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 on verbal command. 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 your son and practice with the scent somewhere like a pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on him 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 him in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. If your son isn't up for being part of the training, you can practice with his samples being planted on you at first, then switch them to him once pup is reliable to help pup focus on him instead of you. It's easiest to start with the training being geared toward the person pup will be assisting in some cases though, because pup will build a loyalty and attention to the person they associate with the rewards given for paying attention to that person and their scent, the most. You can also teach pup to alert to your son's anxious "cues", if you can find things he tends to do while having a panic attack...That might be something like freezing, picking at nails, wiggling a leg, breathing heavily, slouching over, tensing all their muscles - it will most likely be subtle and you will exaggerate the acting out of it during your training practice at first to help pup learn to look for those signals. The cue will be unique to your son as well so you will have to pay attention to find his. Once you know them, teach pup to alert you or provide support like pressure therapy on command (at first commanding it until pup starts to offer the behavior whenever they seethe cue on their own) whenever he does those things so that pup will also alert when you do them subconsciously while anxious. Typically that's the initial anxiety alert task trained to qualify pup. You can also teach additional things if helpful for your son, such as leading to exits during times of high anxiety, helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety, laying under his legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, as a few examples. 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 just 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. If you decide to pursue this, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. 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 the person's 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 son's need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition he needs 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. When flying or renting housing, documentation from the vet and his doctor is mandatory in most places though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 28, 2022

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Emmey

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Red heale

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3 Years

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Panic attacks

Feb. 9, 2021

Emmey's Owner

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Alisha Smith - Alisha S., Dog Trainer

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Hello! The process of training a dog to detect anxiety is a long one. There is no real short answer, so I am including a link which will provide you with info on the "how to". If you have any additional questions outside of this article, please feel free to send another message. https://wagwalking.com/training/detect-anxiety

Feb. 9, 2021


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