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Person with epilepsy & dogs?

November 30th, 2006, 12:48 PM
A really fantastic woman I know (40 yrs old) was just diagnosed with epilepsy. I think compared to some people, she has mild epilepsy, as most of the seizures she's had seem to be when drunk or under heavy heavy stress (which usually leads to drinking).
After getting over my shock that this isn't something that's diagnosed when a person is young, I rememebered that she wanted to get a dog. I did a little more research as I remember a story about some dogs who can help during seizures and may even learn to alert before the seizures happen, so a person can get in a safe position. However, everything I've read about these animals is that there are special "epilepsy assistance dogs" who are trained to help during a seizure, but the jury is still out on whether you can train a dog to alert prior to a seizure. Regardless, my friend won't be eligible for one of these specially trained dogs, as she doesn't have the kind of epilepsy that takes over her life.

So I'm here wondering if there are specific things that a person can train a dog (any dog) to do to help a person with epilepsy. Does anyone have epilepsy? What sorts of things do you need help with during/after a seizure? Are there any courses that a "regular" pet dog can go to to learn these things? Or can they be taught to any dog?

Are there any dogs which would be recommended or not recommended for this situation? I'm working with her to get a rescue dog, but if there are certain breeds/mixes or characteristics in a dog that a person with epilepsy needs to have or avoid, that'd be great to know.

Thanks very much for reading and for any advice you may have.

November 30th, 2006, 01:05 PM
From what I've read on a board of people who mainly have service dogs, the organizations training dogs for seizure help are being picked because they already are showing some skill. So they are building on what the dog has, rather than picking young puppies and training from there.

Also, many aren't pre-warning seizures, only helping during and after. I'd think many dogs if they bonded with their owner like that would be trainable to keep their owner safe during a seizure.

From what I've read though, Canada is pretty hardcore on having credible service dogs, versus in the states the ADA is the regulating body, and almost any dog could be classed as a service dog if you feel you need it. So it might take her far more time than you would think to get a dog up to standards to pass and be able to work in public if that was what she needed.

November 30th, 2006, 01:23 PM
I haven't spoken to her about this, but what I'm understanding from what I know of her epilepsy and what I know about her lifestyle and also the criteria for getting a service dog, is that she wouldn't qualify for an official service dog. What I'm hoping for is that I can help her train (or help her find a place to train) a "regular" dog, one that she chose as a companion first, to help her when she needs help. No different than how some people chose to teach their dogs to fetch their slippers, or the newspaper or find the TV remote or their keys. Holly is a fantastic lady, but she's not handicapped by her illness, and that seems to be the main criteria for getting an officially recognized service dog.

Are there any specific behaviours or "tricks" that a dog might need to learn in order to help a person with epilepsy?


November 30th, 2006, 01:37 PM
first let me say i'm very sorry to hear about your friend. second, I'm just really thinking "out loud" here - I'm NO expert, nor do I KNOW anyone w/ that illness. just some thoughts that came to mind...

perhaps a med-large dog? one that could bear her weight, or ease a fall to the ground, should she need it. one TV special I saw had a man w/ an illness (not sure on the specifics) but he would FALL down - they got him a great dane who was trained that if the man wobbled, to get close to him and guide him to the ground, so he wouldn't fall and smash his head. the dane was large enough for the man to hold on to comfortably, and was large enough to help.

perhaps get a special phone w/ BIG buttons, and train the dog to push an emergency button if needed. such as a pre-programmed 911 or family member. I remember seeing on another TV special, a rottie that helped an ill woman. The dog knocked the handset off the receiver - then pushed a speed dial button, which called 911. the dog barked continuously as emergency services was dispatched to help the woman. (I don't fully recall what illness she had, but she had collapsed on the floor - fell out of a wheelchair)

apparently, I watch too many tv specials.

November 30th, 2006, 01:51 PM
Jessi: I'm no expert either... the only experience I have with epilepsy was babysitting a bf's epileptic daughter. I did some research then, but my friend Holly's epilepsy seems to be completely different (the little girl was on a massive cocktail of drugs and was developmentally delayed as a result, very sad situation).

I like your idea of a larger dog.. Holly seems to have in her head that she wants a schnoodle; perhaps something lab or standard-poodle size would work. Poodles are known for being smart (aren't they?) so maybe anything that appears to be at least part poodle would be good. Labs are fantastically easy to train, too, so that would be a huge help.

And no, you don't watch too many TV specials. Ask me where I learn a lot of the stuff that I know, and most of it is either from Discovery, TLC or Animal Planet. I haven't seen the specific shows you remember, but I do recall something similar about a dog dialing the phone to get emergency services. I know that a lot of officially trained service dogs for people in wheelchairs are trained to help them get back into their wheelchairs if they fall out, and often have lots of handholds and things on their harnesses. I don't think it'd be too tough to train a dog to help a person "fall", but I wonder if they'd be quick enough to really help... what if they were on the wrong side of Holly when she fell? Would the dog be able to get around to prevent her head from hitting the ground or otherwise break her fall? Maybe I'm imagining how severe Holly's symptoms are and this wouldn't even be an issue....

Thanks for thinking out loud, it does help. I'll be doing that here, too, I expect.


November 30th, 2006, 03:04 PM
I think you should contact an agency that trains these dogs. My man's aunt was looking to get one for her son, but they come trained. Not every dog senses seizures.

November 30th, 2006, 03:30 PM
This is likely going to come across as rude, and :sorry:

I've already done the research; Holly will not qualify for a specially trained publically-acceptable service dog. What she wants is a plain old companion. What I'm hoping to do is get some ideas on what things a plain ol' dog could be trained to do to to help Holly. Simple things, like calling for help if she has a seizure when she's home alone, or if they're out on a walk and Holly has a seizure, to help protect her if she falls down, or keep her safe while she recovers.

I don't know how else to say it.... but I'm not looking for a professionally-trained dog, just suggestions on what things a mildly epileptic person might need help with.

Does anyone have any suggestions, or can anyone refer me to an epileptic forum?


November 30th, 2006, 04:14 PM
Dogmelissa,I have a son who had quiet severe epilepsy,from the time he was 1yr old(now 40),much better for about 10yrs since he had brainsurgery.:fingerscr
I know very little about service-dogs,I only know some dogs have a natural ability to sense the changes in it's owner and will stick by them during a seizure.
My son was lucky,he could feel one coming on and would lay down in a safe place.
I you are ever with her during a seizure,never put anything in her mouth,turn her over to her side and hold her there until the seizure is over.

November 30th, 2006, 07:27 PM
I think any dog can do what you're suggesting, provided it's a larger breed (or mix) and not a puppy. puppies, of any breed or mix, can be quite handfulls, especially for someone w/ an illness. Perhaps your friend should consider adopting a young dog w/ some basic manners. If it were me, I'd consider a breed or mix of a working dog: Rottie, Dobe, Boxer, Berner, etc.. just to name a few. dogs with a natural instinct to do a job I think would be best. Then perhaps make a list of things that would make her life easier should something happen (which you should probably discuss with her) i.e. push an alarm button, dial a phone, provide stability, comfort, etc...

take some obedience classes, to refresh basics for the dog, and learn techniques to teach NEW skills. (I'm fond of clicker training, but everyone has different methods, just chose positive ones) adapt those techniques to the skills needed.

you'd be suprised at what "ordinary" dogs can pick up. some turn lights on/off, open fridge doors, retrieve beers!, put toys in toyboxes, bring slippers, etc... I don't see any reason those skills can't be replaced by other skills that your friend may need.

btw, labs are not necessarily fantasticly easy to train. I've seen quite a few who ARE, and equally as many who are simply off the wall.

Angies Man
December 2nd, 2006, 12:53 PM A nice short article about seizure dogs. I saw a TV news story some years ago about an agency that trains dogs in PA (Great Danes) for Parkinsons patients, but haven't been able to find anything on the 'net about them.

When I was in High School, I had a co-worker who suffered from Grand Mal seizures. He was also somewhat developmentally disabled. I learned that the greatest risk for him was that during his seizures he tended to thrash around and had suffered concussions as a result. He was our custodian at our branch public library so we kept a bunch of inexpensive pillows stashed around the building to put under his head if we saw he was seizing (he was only allowed to work when the library was open.)

December 2nd, 2006, 02:21 PM
1. depends on the type of seizures she is having -tonic clonic(formerly known as grand mal.), focal, or absence?
2. does she have an Aura to her seizures? then she herself can tell of an oncoming one, and can get herself in to a safe position.
3. eplilepsy has a large degree, some people have seizures all the time (multiple times a day) and others almost never, i have a friend who is diagnosed with elilepsy and he's only ever had 1 seizure in his life!
4. not to sound cruel but your firend needs to reduce her drinking (go to AA, see a doctor) and stress levels if thats what brings on her seizures. is she on drugs to control her epliepsy? because drinking while on those meds can lead to hepatoxicity (liver toxicity) -dogs can reduce stress levels. which may help with her stress induced seizures. i would also recommend looking in to yoga, and exercise, and any other stress reducing techniques.
5. she may not need a specialized dog for her seizures, however the people in her llife should know what to do and not do when a seizure occurs (PM me if you need anymore details) having a dog present however may help relax and calm her after the seizure, when she can be stressed. so i would suggest trying to get a dog with a calm demenor and "re enact seizures for the dog can become accustomed to them and not freak out when they occur

December 3rd, 2006, 06:32 AM
What is a Seizure Alert Dog?

A Seizure Alert Dog is any dog which to alert a person with epilepsy or any seizure disorder about when that person will have a seizure. Seizure Alert Dogs are Service dogs which can accurately predict when their partner will have a seizure. This ability to predict a seizure cannot be trained for, but dogs with an innate ability can be trained to alert appropriately. No-one knows how the dogs can tell, but many scientists believe that the dogs sense or smell a change in body chemistry which may be the prelude to a seizure. When given accurate warning that a seizure will occur, a person can get to safety (a place where they can't hurt themselves during the seizure) and be prepared when it comes. Seizure Alert Dogs are especially helpful for people who have drop seizures, which occur without warning and often cause injury.

What is a Seizure Response Dog?

A Seizure Response Dog is a Service Dog which is trained to respond, NOT alert to, a seizure. The dog is trained to act appropriately, can be trained to get help, and to help the person recover from the seizure.

Service Dog School in Canada

We want to make sure that anyone looking at getting a Service Dog know that under Canada Law Service Dog have no legal rights and any rights you do get are at the goodwill of the business you are going into. In some but not all province, the Human Rights offer some protection but that can come at a great cost and lengthy battle.
Canadian Law is very clear and the Fines for fraud are to stop people for illegal to pass a Service Dog off as a Guide Dog, OR a pet which is being passed off as a seeing Eye Dog. The legal defines of a Guide Dog, Seeing Eye Dog: Is a dog, trained to aid a person who is visual impairment? You do not have the same right please check before you end up in trouble

All dogs that go though our school must pass the Canine Good Citizen test. (This test checks the dog in abilities to handle themselves in crowd and around other dogs and people in nursing homes hospital and other facility like that This test is presently be used by St. John's Ambulance Pet therapy programs, if the dog can not pass this test it is not consent for this program)
The other test that all my dogs will have to pass is the Temperament test. This test has been set-up to check the temperament of the dog, It start out slowly and each new obstacle gets more stressful and the dog is watched to see how they handle each event. The dogs will be checked for hip and eyes for problems. This will show that all the training and job that the dog is slated for will not in any way harm the dog. We have put into Our Policies Procedure that we will help Individual train their own dogs providing that they meet all our Standards for Temperament, and Medical screening. Service Dog change your life and brings you out of your shell These dogs open up a whole new world and are the greatest way to break down all the barriers.

They are in Edmonton Alberta

December 3rd, 2006, 07:14 AM
Found a book that may be of use as well

Here is the minimum standards in the US for sertification for a service dog, it also a section on seizure alert/response dog

Here is the test they must pass

Info on dogs
What breeds of dogs make good Service Dogs?
The short answer is Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. There are exceptions of course. Dogs from the Working group are easy to train but tend to be protective. Field dogs tend to more interested in their environment than people. Small dogs can't pick up large objects or pull wheelchairs. Large dogs are hard to put under a table in a restaurant or out of the way on a bus or plane. A good Service Dog is not protective, is people oriented, is not overly active, and is confident but not dominate or submissive. Service dogs should not require complex grooming.

Can shelter dogs make good Assistance Dogs?
Many Hearing and Service Dog programs use shelter dogs. The number of dogs that are viable as Hearing and Service Dogs is exaggerated by some organizations. Selection of a dog is critical. A Service Dog candidate should be between 18 months to 2 years old. A younger dog will not show its adult temperament and will not have adult bone structure for hip/shoulder/elbow x-rays. Older than two reduces the amount of time the dog will be able to work with their disabled person. This will eliminate 60 to 80 percent of the dogs in the shelter. Dog size and inappropriate breeds will eliminate another 10 to 20 percent. Temperament tests will eliminate many more. In general, during a visit to the shelter only 1 to 5 percent of the dogs might qualify. Sometimes none will qualify. Service Dog organizations have to make regular visits to the shelters to occasionally find a good candidate. Fifty percent of the dogs selected will have hip dysplasia or other health problems that will then disqualify them. A poor selection process may find a nice or cute dog but you should never shortchange your disabled client with a somewhat satisfactory dog.