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

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
13 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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-3
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?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Emmey
Red heale
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Emmey
Red heale
3 Years

Panic attacks

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
239 Dog owners recommended

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

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Question
Emmy
Red healer
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Emmy
Red healer
3 Years

I have Panic attacks

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
239 Dog owners recommended

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

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Question
Cassie
Belgium Shepherd
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Cassie
Belgium Shepherd
3 Years

Good day

I am actually doing research on training PTSD service dogs in South Africa. i am how ever stuck at training the dog without having PTSD myself so how would i get the dog to alert or recognize the cue if it is "made up" by me as the trainer because when getting an attack or episode your body will naturally release cortisol and other chemicals that also affect the dog. physical cues i can understand to mimic and let the dog see and react but lets say the person is sleeping and such attack is about to take place in his or her sleep the dog will have to react on chemical change in the body and not just physical ques. please assist in determining a training strategy for that scenario

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Andries, The majority of dogs are initially taught to pick up on cues, so I would start the same way. For dogs who learn to alert to bodily changes, like stress hormones detected by scent before an attack you would have to teach the dog to alert to some of those same hormones. I would do a little research into which hormones are released in the body during PTSD times of stress, then research what activities you can do without having PTSD that would release some of those same hormones more safely, and also teach pup to alert at the times when those hormones are higher in your body (although they likely won't be as high as someone with actual PTSD)... An example of this is the hormone Adrenaline potentially being released during a flashback, and mimicking that same release in your body by doing something you enjoy and is safe for you, but also gives you a small rush of adrenaline - like an amusement park ride, outdoor sport, competitive sport, ect... I suspect Cortisol and Adrenaline are the main hormones that pup will be detecting with someone with PTSD but I recommend researching to be sure, and also researching what other things might cause the body to release those same hormones more safely. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Smokey
Siberian Husky
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Smokey
Siberian Husky
4 Years

Smokey isn’t great at focusing. I start with a treat in my hand and then he only pays attention to the treat not the commands. Any help

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Smokey is a very smart breed and can also be a bit stubborn and headstrong. Make sure that he is well exercised before training sessions (a long walk or even a run). Work on his heel when you are out on the pre-training walk, to get his mind in focus mode. All of these methods are good: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. Once you have come in from the training walk, spend another 10 minutes working on the commands you have in mind. Read this entire guide through as there are excellent tips for helping Smokey listen: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you. Pay particular attention to the Consistency Method. Save treats for the end of the session and try exuberant praise instead. But it is important that you tire Smokey out both physically and mentally on a daily basis so that he has the right mindset to work on your chosen skills. All the best!

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Question
Alfie
Jack Russell Terrier
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Alfie
Jack Russell Terrier
7 Years

Hello,
I was wondering if there is any way to train my dog to help me with my agoraphobia? He’s very lovely and very need he isn’t your typical Jack Russel. He’s very close to me. I also have a staff cross lab who is 17 but she’s very very protective with me she’s alerted me in the past of a thief in our garden she’s very switched on I’m unsure if she would be able to do it aswell?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
239 Dog owners recommended

Hi there! They can both learn. This process can take up to a year to teach. It is something that is best trained by working with a trainer in person. There are some non-profit organizations who offer this type of training. I would check google for businesses or organizations in your area who offer this type of training.

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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!

3 years, 3 months ago
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