How Do Service Dogs Detect Seizures? Truth & Myth [2022]

Published Categorized as Service Dogs
Seizure Response Service Dogs

How Do Service Dogs Detect Seizures?

If you find yourself wondering, “How do service dogs detect seizures?”

The term “seizure dog” can mean many different things. It is often misrepresented.

It’s a great question. The truth is, not all service dogs can necessarily predict seizures. Some dogs seem to have this intuition while others don’t. What they can do, though, is help people during or after a seizure or epileptic event. This, in turn, can promote confidence and feelings of safety when service dog handlers are out and about in the public.

In this article, we’ll take a dive into the details and answer this question about these remarkable working animals. Service animals are specially trained to help people with different disabilities. Seizures are just one of the things that service dogs can help people with.

It does seem that certain dogs can predict seizures, but this is not generally something that humans can always train a service dog to predict before it happens. So, usually, seizure alert service dogs help people during and/or after a seizure.

Service dogs that seem to have a natural ability to predict seizures before they happen can be further trained and practice to warn somebody. But not every dog can be trained to do this.

Alerting to an impending seizure is an innate ability in some dogs. It is speculated that during a seizure, the human body gives off a different scent although it’s still unknown exactly how a dog can detect this.

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How do service dogs detect seizures?
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Not All Service Dogs Can Sense Seizures

This seems to be a popular myth as service dogs are becoming more and more commonplace. Service dog trainers cannot necessarily teach any service dog to detect seizures. Sometimes, however, some dogs seem to have this intuition.

Instead, seizure alert service dogs can still help to protect the person having a seizure. This can be done by helping the person to avoid injury in general, or when wandering.

Some seizures, including many temporal lobe seizures, are characterized by a gradual escalation of seizure activity. This extended onset before the seizure begins to present visibly provides an opportunity for a dog to recognize the scent cue and alert, thereby providing advance notice of a seizure.

Little Angles Service Dogs
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Service Dog Balu from Portugal

Building Confidence for People With Seizure Disorders

This seizure-response service dog can be greatly helpful as well as reassuring for people who may tend to avoid certain events, activities, or locations because they fear having a seizure when out in public.

Service dogs can help by keeping the person safe during and after a seizure or epileptic event. Because of this, some trainers prefer to call these dogs are more accurate name: seizure assist dogs or seizure response dogs.

These service dogs provide people with:

  • Greater independence
  • Freedom from fear
  • Peace of mind
  • Support

PAWS Seizure Response Dogs are custom-trained to assist people who have epilepsy with tasks such as activating a life-alert system, finding someone to help, retrieving a phone or stimulating a person during a seizure. As a person recovers from a seizure, a PAWS Dog can retrieve medications or food, act as a brace to help them up and provide comfort.

PAWS Seizure Response Dogs are NOT trained to protect or predict seizure activity. However, after several years with a client, some may develop the ability to alert their owner of an oncoming seizure. This behavior is not guaranteed to develop, nor to be consistent if it does develop.

PAWS With a Cause
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Service Dog Tasks for Seizures

What tasks can a service dog do that would help someone who is having a seizure, during or after a seizure? Here are some possible options.

  • The service dog could stay close to the person with epilepsy which would help to prevent injuries
  • Service dogs can be trained to fetch medication, a phone, or another item
  • Service dogs could alert another person, such as a caregiver
  • Service dogs can be trained to activate an emergency call system (for example, pushing a LifeLine button, or calling 911 on a dog-friendly phone)
  • Service dogs can “block” a wandering person from walking into a dangerous area
  • Service dogs can provide deep pressure therapy

It is paws4people’s philosophy that Assistance Dogs ARE able to pre-alert to epileptic seizures. In fact, many of our Dogs perform this skill reliably.

HOWEVER, it is not possible to “train” Assistance Dogs to do this, because modern medicine cannot yet identify the stimulus (hormone excretion, neurological change, etc.) that consistently precedes this type of seizure activity.

Without the presence of a known and proven stimulus by which to train an Assistance Dog, actual training cannot occur. This is why, in order to maintain the highest level of professional honesty and trust with our Clients, we do not profess to train epileptic seizure alert skills – only response skills.

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Psychiatric service dog
Psychiatric Service Dog @sarge.in.service

What Seizure Response Dogs Can Do

Since they can not predict seizures, Seizure Response Dogs are trained to react to a seizures. These specially trained service dogs are trained to react to physical cues, such as:

  • The person dropping or falling
  • Convulsions

Service dogs may be trained to get the attention of someone else by barking. This is why it’s important not to ignore a service dog that you may find without a handler. If you do find a service dog without a handler, follow the dog. The human counterpart is likely in need of help.

Read more: What To Do If a Service Dog Approaches You Alone

border collie service dog
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Can Service Dogs Prevent Someone From Walking Towards Dangerous Areas (Traffic, Stairs, Pools, etc)?

Dogs are smart, there’s no question about that. But, dogs – in general – do not have the same concept of danger as humans do.

Service dogs are usually trained to heel (follow) with the person who is holding the leash. The service dog actually has no way of knowing if you are crossing the street voluntarily or involuntarily.

Will a Service Dog Be Able to Prevent a Fall?

No, service dogs are not normally trained to keep people from falling. Service dogs are not able to predict falls, since they are not able to predict seizures. It is also potentially dangerous to the service dog’s health to be trained to break a person’s fall.

Can a Service Dog Leave to Go Get Help?

Yes, some service dogs can be trained to go get help. But, often, they are only trained to get help inside. The service dog can get a family member, for example, who is in a different room/floor if you are not feeling well.

The service dog will not be able to get help when you are in an outside area. This is because dogs do not have the same concept of danger that humans do, and could potentially be injured if they had to cross a street looking for a person to help.

What Types of Seizures Can Service Dogs Be Trained to React To?

Service dogs can be trained to assist different types of seizures. For example:

When someone falls and/or is convulsing, that’s the service dog’s cue to start barking, for example. And, to keep doing so until the seizure has subsided, or someone comes to offer assistance.

Absence seizures (Petit mal) are seizures that the dogs will not react to. This is because there is a lack of obvious change in behavior.

Can a Service Dog Guide a Person Home After a Seizure?

You may be wondering if a service dog could guide someone home, especially if the person is disoriented and confused after a seizure. Service dogs are generally trained to follow you, not guide you. Dogs – service dogs included – do not have the cognitive ability to safely guide their handler home.

Read more:

By Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.