Service Dogs for People Living with Epilepsy
You may have seen the article about the young girl living with epilepsy whose service dog was also given a spot in her yearbook and may be wondering if you would also be able to benefit from a service dog. In today’s blog, we will go over information on service dogs for people living with epilepsy.
Service dogs for people with epilepsy are also known as Seizure Response Dogs. These dogs are trained to perform specific behaviours and actions during and following a seizure that are designed to keep their owner safe. They may do things like:
- Cushioning their owner’s fall by getting in between the ground and their owner’s body
- Activating an alarm system or device to summon additional help
- Barking to notify others that a seizure is occurring
- Bringing medications or a phone to their owner
- Lying next to their owner when they are experiencing a seizure so that they can be comforted when they are in the postictal state
Please see below for some information on Seizure Response Dogs:
Owning a Seizure Response Dog: It is important to remember that owning a Seizure Response Dog is a legal, moral, and financial commitment for the life of the dog and careful consideration must be given to these commitments before accepting the responsibilities of having a service dog. This is different than owning a pet as Seizure Response Dogs must follow strict commands which must also be practiced by those who live with or are in close contact with the person. According to the Lions Foundation of Canada, in order for a person living with epilepsy to get a Seizure Response Dog, they must be:
- At least 14 years old or older
- Have a minimum of 1 seizure per month
- Be able to participate in the training process both physically and cognitively
- Be able to independently command and handle their Seizure Response Dog
- Be able to meet the emotional, physical, and financial needs of their Seizure Response Dog
- Live in a stable home environment
- Have no other dog in their home – please note that other types of pets may also not be allowed
Training a Seizure Response Dog: Depending on the person, a Seizure Response Dog is trained to react to obvious cues (ex. falling, convulsing, etc.) which would then be the dogs cue to start barking or demonstrate other behaviours they are trained to do. It is important to note that a Seizure Response Dog is generally not able to recognize absence seizures or focal seizures due to the lack of obvious change in physical behaviour as seen during a tonic clonic seizure. It is also important to note that that it may not be possible to train your dog to be a Seizure Response Dog as the majority of dogs do not have the temperament to be a service dog. Becoming a certified service dog trainer entails many years of training and experience. Unless you have your dog certified as an official service dog by a certified trainer, it will not have the privileges that other service dogs typically have, such as taking the dog on the bus, to school, into stores, etc.
Certifying a Seizure Response Dog: In BC, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act and Guide Dog and Service Dog Regulation govern how guide and service dogs and their handlers are certified. Under this act, it states that Seizure Response Dogs are free to enter and use any place, accommodation, building or conveyance to which the public is invited or has access, without any additional charge. However, the Seizure Response Dog must be certified. Certification increases public safety, raises training standards and improves public access for dog and handler teams. This mandatory training ensures that only dogs who behave well in a variety of environments are certified. You can find out more about this here. There are two ways to be certified:
- Receive a trained dog from an accredited school (such as a school accredited by Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation)
- Pass a public safety test
How to Get a Seizure Response Dog: If you are looking for a seizure response dog, it is very important to have the dog trained by a certified assistance dog trainer that specializes in training service dogs for people with seizures. You can check out:
- The Lions Foundation of Canada: www.dogguides.com
- VI-K9: https://www.vik9.ca/service-dogs/
- Paws4People: https://paws4people.org/
While a Seizure Response Dog would not be considered a replacement for human supervision for a person living with epilepsy, it has been found that they are useful as they may be able to give their owner a sense of freedom, independence or security as it has been found that many people with epilepsy may experience anxiety or fear over what would happen if they were to have a seizure in public.
It has been found that stress can increase seizure frequency and numerous studies have shown that owning a pet can lower stress levels. Therefore, the presence of a pet may potentially reduce seizure frequency by lowering a person’s stress levels, whether or not they are a service dog. However, if you are interested in finding a service dog for your epilepsy, we hope that the information contained in our blog has been helpful for you!