Ultimate Guide to Owning a Seizure Alert Dog
If you have epilepsy, you aren’t alone. This is a condition experienced by more than 65 million people around the world, with more than 3 million of them in the United States alone.
Whether this is a recent diagnosis or something you have lived with your entire life, there is likely one thing you know to be true – having the right resources can make living with epilepsy so much easier.
A seizure alert dog is one such resource. Not only can this type of pet provide you with a greater sense of independence, improving your quality of life, but it can also provide you with lifesaving security.
However, getting a seizure dog isn’t as simple as making a trip to the closest pet store. There are certain (and important) considerations that need to be made in terms of how your dog is selected, trained, and cared for.
In this ultimate guide to owning a seizure alert dog, we will tell you everything you need to know before embarking on this exciting journey.
What is a Seizure Alert Dog?
Before we dive into the specifics of owning and caring for a seizure alert dog, let’s tackle the most basic, most pressing question – what exactly is a seizure alert dog?
Seizure alert dogs are service animals that are specifically trained to find help or assist their partners both before, during, and after a seizure. Dogs are unique in that certain dogs (though not all) have the natural ability to detect an oncoming seizure.
Because they know a seizure is coming, they can respond accordingly. Seizure alert dogs aren’t just any old dogs, though – they are specifically trained to warn their partners of impending seizures.
In the event of a seizure, a service animal might do the following:
- Exhibit alert behaviors just before a seizure (such as pawing, intense eye contact, licking, pacing, or other restless behaviors)
- Remain close to the owner during the seizure to prevent injuries
- Alert a caretaker or emergency response system to the seizure
- Retrieve an alert device, medication, or telephone
- Turn on a light or open a door
It’s important to note that seizure alert dogs are different from seizure response dogs, despite the fact that the two names are often used interchangeably. A dog cannot be trained to alert oncoming seizures – this is a natural behavior, according to the American Kennel Club, and it’s unclear how dogs are able to detect oncoming seizures.
That said, a dog can be both a seizure alert dog and a seizure response dog. Simply put, this kind of animal is one who has both the natural ability to detect a seizure as well as one who can respond to the seizure during and after its occurrence.
Benefits of Service Dogs for Epileptics
Service dogs for epileptics are invaluable. They can not only help prevent injuries related to seizures by protecting the owner and preventing him from injuring himself during an epileptic attack, but they can also alert family members or other caregivers as to what is going on.
Some seizure alert dogs are even trained to catch their owners should they lose control and fall over. Others can help pull wheelchairs, help their owners walk to a safe place after a seizure, or even press alarm buttons or other signaling devices that can call for help should the human suffer from a seizure.
There are even dogs who can remove clothing, turn lights on or off, retrieve dropped items, or open doors.
Getting a service dog can dramatically improve an epileptic’s quality of life. Living with a seizure disorder can be physically and emotionally challenging – something you are likely already painfully aware of.
However, having a service dog can help you get your independence back and also give peace of mind to friends and loved ones who might be concerned about your wellbeing.
Let’s not overlook the emotional benefits of having such a companion, either – a seizure assistance dog can improve your socialization and may very well end up being your very best and closest friend.
Training Organization Resources for Service Dogs
Service dogs, especially service dogs for people with epilepsy, are intensively trained. They have to spend a year or more in basic obedience and advanced service dog training, after which they are evaluated for their potential to respond to seizures.
They are also evaluated for their ability to alert seizures. Again, this is an innate behavior that can’t be trained – however, training professionals will work with a dog who has the natural instinct to alert. They will encourage these behaviors and promote them through positive reinforcement.
Then, a dog and its partner can attend team training so that the human component of the relationship, and not just the dog, knows exactly what to expect.
All that sounds simple enough, but in reality, it can be quite difficult to find the right training resources for seizure alert dogs. Here are some resources that might help you out as you train your dog to respond to seizures.
Assistance Dogs International, Inc.
ADI offers a variety of resources for people in the process of training seizure alert dogs. Some of these are only available to members, but there are all kinds of helpful articles and training tips for people from all over the world on this site.
The Epilepsy Foundation is a huge source of information for all things related to epilepsy, but also to seizure dogs. You can learn what kinds of dogs there are, how to acquire them, and what general rights you are entitled to.
Also known simply as CPL, this organization is a nonprofit dedicated to training service dogs. You can apply for the seizure alert dog program as long as you are at least 12 years old.
When you visit this nonprofit’s website, you can find all kinds of information on customized dog training, certification, and more. You can apply for assistance or customized training assessments.
With this nonprofit, you can get an evaluation and receive free training with your dog. You can also take classes – you do have to live in New Mexico for some of the services, though not all.
Canine Companions for Independence
This nonprofit specializes in dogs for veterans but also works to train Labs and Golden Retrievers out of its Northeast office in New York. You can apply for a service dog on the organization’s website.
United States Service Dog Registry
This is another great resource if you’re looking to bring a qualified service dog home.
Resources for Bringing Your Service Dog to School
Whether you’re bringing your service dog to elementary school, high school, or college, these resources will help you prepare to do so.
Before you bring your service dog anywhere, including a school, it’s important that you read the ADA and Service Animals guide closely Published by the Department of Justice as a regulation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, this publication will give you more information on your legal rights as the owner of a service animal.
IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act)
Under IDEA, states must provide all children with disabilities (until age 21) with free and appropriate public education that is tailored to a child’s individual needs.
This regulation is meant specifically to protect children and provide for their educational needs. If you are planning on bringing your service dog to school, it’s a good idea to brush up on the basics of this act.
Service Animal Integration Plans
Before starting school, it’s wise to sit down with your teachers and any other stakeholders in your education (such as housing departments on your college campus, if you’ll be living in the dorms) to come up with a plan for integrating your dog.
Again, if you have epilepsy, you are protected under IDEA and in most cases, have a right to have your dog with you on campus. Your plan should provide guidance on all the important details and how your environment will be tailored to you. This resource by the Department of Labor includes questions you can ask to create such a plan.
Take a close look at the Fair Housing Act if you plan to live on a college campus. Although schools are required to support service animals in the dormitories, only about 4% of all American colleges describe themselves as “pet-friendly.” You will be asked to explain what your pet is trained to do, so educate yourself on FHA so you know what to expect.
AKC Canine Good Citizen Program
Before you bring your dog to school, take some time to make sure your dog is ready for the distractions. You need to make sure your dog is socialized and can remain on task even when lots of other people are around. This resource has guidelines and benchmarks for foundational skills.
These tips are meant specifically for owners of guide dogs, but they apply for seizure alert dogs, too. Brush up on these tips and share them with those at your school.
This website has more information on how to keep your service dog – and those studying alongside your service dog – healthy when you bring your dog to school with you.
Resources for Traveling With a Service Dog
If you plan on traveling with your service dog, remember that it can be helpful to limit water and to exercise your dog before you board a plane, train, or another form of transportation. Also, know that no matter how well you plan, some dogs simply might not be comfortable on an airplane – and you may have to try to plan trips by car instead to allow for regular bathroom breaks and other amenities.
Air Travel With Service Animals by the US DOT
Published by the Department of Transportation, this document will give you all kinds of information on the ins and outs of flying with your pup.
Service Animals Guide by the U.S. Department of Transportation
You can find a guide that is more generalized to other types of travel (but covers air travel as well) with a service animal in this document. It also goes into more detail about when airlines are permitted to deny transport to a dog – so it’s wise to consult it before you book a trip.
Aviation Consumer Protection Laws and Tips
Again, this resource is tailored more to flying with a service animal than anything else, but it’s still worth the read.
Home, Community, or Travel: Rules for Service Animals Are Not the Same Webinar
This is a webinar that discusses how service animals are identified under the Air Carriers Access Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. It will give you more tips on what kinds of documentation is required to travel with your service dog, too.
Department of Homeland Security
Learn what to expect from the TSA by visiting the DHS website. This will tell you the ins and outs of going through the metal detector, when physical examinations are needed, and so on.
The USDA Pet Travel page will give you important information on leaving and returning to the United States with a service dog from out of the country.
ADI offers a variety of resources for travelers, including a list of laws covering numerous international destinations that you might plan to travel to.
The TSA has a helpful notification card that you can use to discreetly communicate your medical information. You still need to be screened, but this can eliminate some of the hassles.
Seizure alert dogs are invaluable assets, helping their owners through potentially frightening and life-threatening events. They are also wonderful companions.
If you’re thinking about bringing a service dog home, consider the resources above – they’ll likely prove to be just as much of a lifesaver as your new furry companion!