By Adrian Sparrow
Service dogs are becoming more prevalent as we learn more about the positive impact that assistive animals can have on people with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is a working animal that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability”, which includes epilepsy.
Under the ADA, service animals (which includes dogs and miniature horses) can generally go with their partner into public spaces such as stores, restaurants, government facilities, and other state and local businesses and organizations. Service animals can also live in apartments and other housing that don’t allow pets because the dogs aren’t pets but working animals. Service animals can enhance their partner’s quality of life, help them achieve greater independence, and provide a comforting presence and support in difficult situations.
Guide dogs help blind and visually impaired people navigate, and mobility dogs assist people who use wheelchairs and walking devices. A seizure dog is a specific kind of service dog trained to respond to a seizure in persons with epilepsy. There are two common variants of this service:
-Seizure response dogs
-Seizure predicting/alert dogs
Seizure response dogs are trained to respond to a seizure currently happening, while a seizure predicting dog is trained to notice the signs of a seizure before they happen.
Seizure dogs can be trained to perform a variety of skills, such as:
-Barking or alerting family members when a child is having a seizure in another room;
-Laying on the floor next to someone having a seizure to prevent injury;
-Standing between a seizing person and the floor to break their fall;
-Fetching a telephone, medication, or an alert device; and providing emotional support.
Through trained behaviors like eye contact, pawing, or licking, seizure predicting dogs can alert their partner, who can then take preventative safety measures (leaving a crowded area; laying down to avoid falling) before a seizure occurs.
One school of thought says that because of a dog’s innate sense of smell, they can learn to recognize their partner’s scent before they have a seizure. Still, studies are inconclusive, and ultimately, the truth of a dog’s ability to predict seizures remains a mystery. Because of this, be wary of trainers who advertise they can train seizure-predicting dogs, which have mixed outcomes.
Getting a seizure dog can seem complicated, but it depends on how the person needs assistance. Working with a trainer can help ensure that the dog meets the requirements and expectations of a service dog, which can include the ability to remain calm and be under the control of its partner in public spaces and learn special techniques directly related to their partner’s disability. There’s no requirement that a service dog needs a certificate or specific training program, which can be expensive, nor is there a limitation on the dog’s breed. The person with the disability must also consider whether they or a loved one can care for a dog who will be their constant companion for an average of 8 years before the dog retires as a pet, usually staying with their partner to live out their golden years.