How are seizure alert service dogs trained?
A study in Canada showed that 15% of all dogs naturally alert.
Alerting cannot be formally trained, with a single exception. The problem is that in order to be able to teach a dog to signal something, the trainer must be able to control or at least identify that which the dog is to signal.
No one knows for sure what it is the dogs are sensing that tells them a seizure is coming. Most people think it is a scent caused by biochemical changes in the person's circulatory system. Though many studies have been performed to identify what they are sensing, no one yet has conclusively determined what it is.
We know that cells in the brain fire all the time. A seizure is simply an electrical storm in the brain; uncontrolled electrical firing. So whatever it is the dog is sensing is perceivable all the time, but in varying degrees. Certain levels are normal, certain levels (or a change in levels) indicate a seizure is coming, and there are certain other levels during the seizure itself.
Drug dogs are trained to do an all-or-nothing signal. Either the drug is there, or it is not. They don't have to discriminate between signaling for 2 grams but not 1. They just signal any time they sense it.
Seizure alert dogs have to be able to distinguish what is in the normal range and what is in the abnormal range. We humans don't have the ability to identify that point so we can teach them to look for it, as we can with drug dogs where it is all or nothing. Therefore seizure alert dogs cannot be trained the same way drug detection dogs or cancer detection dogs can.
The single exception to training a dog to seizure alert is to use an existing alert dog to let you know when it is time to cue and reinforce the trainee. A friend and I performed an informal experiment on this concept with two trainees. I trained one and she the other.
What we learned was that though it was possible to teach a dog to alert in this manner, it was very difficult. The trainee preferred to defer to the experienced dog when possible. The trainee, even in the absence of the experienced dog only had about half the lead (warning) time of the dog who alerted naturally. We also discovered that natural alerters will alert for more than one person, including strangers and will alert for more than one condition, but that conditioned alerters will only alert for one condition in one person.
For example, my seizure alert dog also alerts for hyper and hypo thyroid (I have neither, but have friends with each), low blood sugar, migraines and low medication levels. My trainee did only seizures, and only for me. The same was true of my friend's dogs.
My friend continued with her trainee, putting her into full service at the completion of training. I tapered off on reinforcing my trainee because I was not satisfied with the difference between her and my working dog who was young and had years of working life ahead of him. My friend's regular dog had to retire early after being shot (he never recovered emotionally), so she had no other choice.
My trainee quickly lost the ability in the absence of regular reinforcement. My natural alerter needs only an acknowledgment that his alert is recognized and he'll continue to exhibit the behavior time and time again.
There are also seizure response dogs. Alert dogs are also taught response tasks. So some dogs are alert and response (sometimes abbreviated "alert") and some are response only.
Trained responses might include positioning the person for vomiting, clearing the airway, positioning the person for opening the airway to optimize air exchange, moving objects away from the person to prevent injury, blocking the person from falling down stairs, or with partial seizures restraining a limb to prevent injury.
After the seizure, a seizure response dog might help the handler with orientation, finding a person or location on command, going or calling for help, with thermostasis, or by steadying them as they climb back to their feet.
There are many other possibilities for tasks for seizure alert and or response dogs.
They are taught basic obedience and public access skills the same as any other service dog. The response work is taught the same as similar tasks are taught to other kinds of service dogs. For example, guiding to a location by name is a very common guide dog task and steadying a person is a common task for people with balance issues.
Some studies have shown that seizure response dogs often develop the ability to alert to seizures within six months of placement with a person who has frequent seizures. The rate is estimated at about 50 percent. My own hypothesis as to why the incidence is higher in service dogs than in the general dog population is that service dogs are selected for specific personality traits, including a particular kind of attentiveness to their handler, work ethic, and problem solving. All of these are factors in a dog's ability to alert.
Some people mistakenly believe a dog can be taught to seizure alert by exposing the dog to a person's underwear they wore during a seizure or by exposing a dog to a person during or immediately after a seizure. Neither of these will teach the dog where that line is between normal and approaching a seizure because both situations simply have an excess of whatever the stimulus is, not the specific concentration or amount that we want them to detect.
It is true that exposure methods can appear to work, but it is because without exposure to a person with seizures a dog never has the opportunity to develop the behavior naturally or to exhibit it. The exposure allows alerting to develop in those dogs who already have all of the personality pieces needed to be an alerter–it doesn't give them the skill itself.
I have a seizure dog!!
Okay, a seizure dog falls into many categories….
They can be proactive, and do things like jump up and down and bark when they sense the onset of a seizure…
they can (in some cases) call 911 on a special phone if they feel that this is happening…
They can assist in the person's recovery, by helping them to get up from the floor (my dog does this) or just for comfort after the event…
In short, there are no set "rules" for what a seizure dog should actually do for work…
If you have a seizure issue, and a dog, or are thinking about a dog…
you need to contact a specialist dog trainer in your area… Sure you can do 99.9% of the work in continuing the dog's training yourself, but you have to tell the trainer what kind of thing you are trying to do, ask him/her to assess the dog and see what might be possible…
And then, after the trainer gives you a few things to work on, go home with your dog, and practice, practice, practice…
your first telephone call, should be to your local seeing eye dog group or kennel (the local pound MAY be able to help you) then ask them who they know does specialist assistance dog training, and if they have a good reputation…
Then make the call, and have a short consultation…
I certainly hope that someone gets a furry defender/assistant very soon…
Hope that helps
By and large you cannot train a dog to predict seizures, the dogs either have it or they don't, but if they are going to be used for public access, then they definately have to have their alert behaviour shaped into a socially acceptable one, likely standing on your foot, pawing at your leg, nose nudging and the like, similar to hearing dog tasks. It is not acceptable for dog to bark and jump up and down in public places, even if it is alerting you, and businesses have a legal right to ask you to take your dog out if he does do such things.
Proving alerts in court is basically impossible, and so for this, and the persons safety, the dog must also be taught seizure response tasks, like clearing the airway, moving a person onto their side, moving objects out of their way, getting help, and leading a person home after a seizure. It is these tasks which make a dog a service dog along with extensive obedience and public access training.
The person must also be disabled by their seizures and this would usually require at least one seizure a week, which has not been able to be controlled by medication.
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How are seizure alert service dogs trained??
They're not. Either it comes naturally or it doesn't.
The dog that is trained is the seizure response dog or seizure assistance dog. This dog will roll the owner over to put him in a safer position for the seizure and otherwise protect him.
Many seizure response dogs naturally become seizure alert dogs. But if a dog doesn't have the abilities and/or instinct, you can't train him to be a seizure alert dog. Of course, if your dog alerts you to a seizure, encourage him and praise him (or have someone else do it) to let him know that that's the right thing to do).
IN RESPONSE TO YOUR RESPONSE: Check out the second link below. Near the middle there's a question about breeds superior for seizure alert dogs. They say that no one breed has been identified as superior. The best factor is the dog's personality. It should be "people-oriented and very responsive to human emotions and feelings." I think there are a lot of breeds of the size you mention that fit this description. I think you should also analyze what you're looking for in a dog: How much you can exercise, how much shedding, how much grooming, do you have kids, etc.? Also, you might want to contact some organizations that train seizure response dogs (like the two below). They might have a dog that will fit your needs.
Also read the question (in the second link) "Where Can a Person with a Seizure Disorder Get a Service Dog?"
The dog has the basic service dog training and then shows the ability to sense a seizure coming on. You can not train that into a dog, some dogs and cats are natural alert animals and most are not. My g/f had 5 GSDs and 1 has seizures. One of her other dogs would tell her 24 hours in advance that the other GSD was going to seize. It took her several months to figure that out tho..lol. When I dog sat we had a total of 7 GSDs, 1 Rott, 4 MinPins and 1 Dach. Only the 1 GSD picked up on the seizure, the rest of the pack were unconcerned.
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Im taking a train from here to canada. its a 5 day ride. How would i let my service dog attend to his toilet needs? because its a non stop 5 day thing.
From your story we can surmise several things. You will be riding on Amtrak and perhaps VIA Rail Canada. Almost all of your travel will be on overnight trains. Given the length of your travel you must be crossing the American west, and that means you'll be on Amtrak Superliner class equipment specifically. Stopping at the kinds of places those stop at.
This is very relevant, because that particular kind of service is VERY different than "trains generally". Your or others' experience on a subway, commuter train, corridor service, any European train, or even any Amtrak short-haul – is simply irrelevant here."Nonstop train". "IF the train stops." "Nowhere to walk around". These are the kinds of statements you hear from someone NOT familiar with this type of train. I'm seeing some real malarkey from people who claim rail experience, so to them I say, name the trains specifically.
First, service animals are positively allowed absolutely everywhere on Amtrak – and THAT is from the horse's mouth.
They would not be allowed if that was cruel to the animal (and yes, I recognize that argument also supports their use on airlines.)
Overnight trains (except Auto-Train) stop every hour on average, day and night. The train's schedule will tell how often. See www.amtrak.com. About every 12 hours, the train will have a layover of 25-55 minutes. Here, someone thought this was a change of trains. No, this is your train being fueled watered and provisioned. This work CANNOT be be done in less than 20 minutes so you are assured walk-time.
You will change trains. This will be in a major downtown or possibly Emeryville CA. Most transfers are several hours. Some are rushed because of a late train, but your destination track is very close. In DC, the layovers tend to be very long but in daytime with much to do nearby. Walk your dog on the National Mall.
Walking around — The train is large and has many amenities. Notably a lounge car you may use at all times (microwave food available 15 hours a day), and a dining car open for 3 meals a day. You are free to travel the train to get to those things or for any other reason that pleases you. PLEASE DO! And take your dog. The aisles are wide and passing isn't hard. At the door you will need to reach forward and push a button (I push it hard twice to make sure it notices). it is louder between cars but not like an airplane.
Space for the animal: Amtrak seats and leg space are HUGE on overnight trains, 52 inch seat pitch. Contrast with 29-36" on the airplane. Almost two FEET more space for your dog. (so I don't buy this "same room as the airplane" business.) Plus Amtrak crews are far more likely than an airline to let you keep the adjacent coach seat, so now you have even more space. Make ample use of the train's amenities – you'll be in that space less than half your waking hours.
However I surmise that you might be in sleepers, and further, that because of your dog, Amtrak may be inclined to give you the handicap sleeper if it is not needed by a wheelchair patron. As you might guess, this is all private space where "your dog gets to go off-duty and be a dog". And the handicap bedroom is bigger than my old San Francisco apartment (ok, not quite, but it is made for you to maneuver in your wheelchair, not an airline loaner chair.)
Contrast to airplanes where the animal is given a) the owner's cramped foot space, b) the foot space in an adjacent seat if you're lucky, or c) some cubbyhole far from the owner. You can't just go for a stroll on an airplane, you are absolutely expected to stay in your seat unless you have somewhere to go, and the only place to go is the lavatory. http://sdog.danawheels.net/travel.shtml
Humane perhaps. But MORE humane? Debatable.
Worse, they are delaying and canceling flights a lot lately. Last year, I myself was trapped on the tarmac for 6 hours on JetBlue on top of a 5 hour flight, so 11 hours holding it. That was way worse than anything on Amtrak, and I've been through some hum-dingers.
Business: Talk to your car attendant. Amtrak trains stop every hour or so, and they make long 25-45 minute servicing stops about every 12 hours. Stations are informal affairs, short stops are fairly leisurely (by urban rail standards) and there's usually grass nearby. Look on Google Maps / Panoramio for aerial and many ground shots of stations along your route, that will give you an idea. The trick is you have to show the attendant that you are sensitive to Amtrak's timekeeping needs, and you will be at the door and ready to go when he stops. If your animal doesn't go, cut it short and try for the next stop. Amtrak is required to work with you due to ADA. More on that later.
Again I reiterate, your experience on European/subway/commuter trains does not apply here.
At the big servicing stops, everyone can get off and wander the station area. You can leave the station grounds, but be back early or they WILL leave without you.
Let's go back and contrast that to the airplane: Your animal CANNOT "do business" on the airplane, so he's stuck for 5 hours holding it, and he doesn't know in advance he's in for that kind of enduro, unless you have some special dog language you speak? When you arrive at a layover airport, you wait in the "Sterile area" (already through security) and that's a great name for it. [I'm glad to hear they're starting to provide piddle places, but we all know it'll be inadequate half-measures - like a mile away from YOUR gate. On Amtrak, your gate is less than a mile from downtown!]
And despite people's convenience-driven delusion about flying, it really is a stressful and miserable environment. Deafening jet engine noise, unsettling changes in cabin pressure (and yes animals will sense it, even if their ears don't pop exactly). Floors that tilt for no reason. And the dehydration! There's a reason they come around with drinks every 2-3 hours – the cabin is pressurized with bleed air from the jet engines, which is almost 0% humidity. An animal coming off an airplane will want to drink as if from a fire-hose, and the owner will want to stop it because they will be on another flight in an hour. Remember – this is more HUMANE, it must be, because it's more convenient!
[I would note that just because the dog loyally tolerates it doesn't mean it is comfortable for them. Here I agree with Fledchen - you need to be humane toward the dog, not just care about only your convenience. I myself fly for the convenience of speed, but I don't delude myself about the various stresses it applies. And *I* have a bathroom.]
One other falsehood I will not accept is the notion that normally, service animals get to piddle anytime they please.
Train for the dog… he gets to piddle often on real grass. He gets space to sit, space to stand, many opportunities to walk around with his owner, even pretty views to see – the windows in the double deck lounge go down to service-dog height!
Kristen, you quote a law and says it makes trains exempt from ADA. It is a common mistake to believe that because your equipment is not required to be wheelchair accessible, therefore your entire organization can ignore ADA. Writ large, that mistake looks like this. http://www.disabilityresourceexchange.co…
ADA says all providers of everything must do what is "readily achievable" (search that). Above, they simply needed to let Arwen do what she'd already pulled off. For Amtrak it means simply allowing service dogs (which they do) and working with their owners to get the dog's needs met, so long as the impact to operations is trivial. At an unplanned delay, throwing open a door so you can take your pet outside is readily achievable. Clearing an airport gate and taxiing your airplane back to it so you can find a relief station in the terminal – is NOT.
Finally – Let me express my frustration with a few answerers from the "pets" section, where I notice people play rough. (it was the same way on Usenet.) I mean most of them have "private answers" or "email blocked" which is the sure sign of a troll, hostile person, or hostile posting environment. But here on "rail", we are a bit more civilized, and the nastiness and blowhard know-it-all arrogance is NOT appreciated by the locals. Generally, we actually help people instead of foist arrogance upon them.
Americans love the convenience of airplanes, and in "rail", we see people self-justify a lot – telling white lies and ignoring inconvenient truths. We have no guff with that, and you can keep your lies… at least, until you use them to bash trains unfairly or out of ignorance. Then – all bets are off.
You don't put a service dog in that kind of situation (a non-stop five day train ride). It is inhumane. He needs more than to toilet. He needs to walk around.
Like I told you before, if it's a real service dog, just fly. If it's not, they won't let it on the train anyway.
— edited to add —
When people with disabilities do travel by train with service animals, they never take non-stop trips that last more than half a day.
Your questions make it seem like you don't know what a service dog is or how to properly steward one. Your behavior is making it seem like you're trying to find a way to take a pet to Canada. I still can't wrap my mind around why someone would want to drag a dog on a train for five days straight instead of flying when flying is significantly faster (and more humane) and costs less.
— edited to add —
The ADA explicitly excludes coverage for locomotives because it is covered under a different law.
28 CFR 36.104(3)
"That are not —
(iii) Railroad locomotives, railroad freight cars, railroad cabooses, commuter or intercity passenger rail cars (including coaches, dining cars, sleeping cars, lounge cars, and food service cars), any other railroad cars described in section 242 of the Act or covered under title II of the Act, or railroad rights-of-way. For purposes of this definition, "rail'' and "railroad'' have the meaning given the term "railroad'' in section 202(e) of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (45 U.S.C. 431(e))."
What we're talking about is a person who assumed she could take a dog on a five day non-stop trip. That's not humane. She decided she preferred doing that to flying because she would not subject her dog to flying which would in fact be significantly more comfortable for the dog. Whether she can effectively toilet and exercise her dog if the train does stop depends on several factors. It is not a guaranteed thing. They do not, in fact, hold the train for the dog to toilet. You must stay close to the train and reboard immediately when told to do so, so exercise options are extremely limited. Since a working dog needs a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily, this dog is going to be missing out on an important part of his care, even if he does manage to toilet, which won't be on his schedule.
She has been told several times to call Amtrak but appears to be working out her story first here because each question builds on the last. It started out just being a dog and now it's a service dog. I think she didn't want to fly with it because she didn't want to put it in cargo. Except service dogs don't fly in cargo but in the cabin with their owners, and real service dog owners know this because they are taught it when they go through training with their dogs. The space a dog gets on an airplane is fairly similar to the space he gets on a train. The difference is he's on the plane for a few hours and on the train for several days (more than 20 times as long). Choosing the train is not for her dog's benefit, clearly.
— edited to add —
"They would not be allowed if that was cruel to the animal." Yet service animals are certainly allowed on planes, so extending wolf's own logic it cannot be inhumane to fly with them.
Having done both with my service dog, I can report the plane is much more humane because it is much shorter. I can state categorically that my service dog prefers flying because he has more room to exercise at his destination than he has on either vehicle and the plane gives him more time on the ground where he can be off leash daily, running, playing and blowing off steam. On a train ride his exercise and toileting opportunities are very limited. They're limited on a plane too, but for a much much shorter period of time. Service dogs are not machines. They have needs that a responsible owner is very concerned about meeting. Five days is a really long trip, not just a few hours, but over a hundred consecutive hours without a real break to unwind.
Pet dogs do not have the same needs as service dogs. Traveling on a train with a pet dog in Europe or anywhere else is not the same as traveling on one with a service dog. The service dog is working, the pet is not. Dogs that work hard need to play hard, and they need down-time to just be dogs and run around. Deny them this basic care and they will shut down and stop working, possibly permanently (and have to be retired). A person who depends on their service dog isn't going to stress the dog unnecessarily. Choosing a train trip because you want to see the scenery is one thing (a legitimate reason for choosing the train). Choosing it to avoid the plane because of concerns for the dog's comfort shows a significant lack of understanding of dogs and especially service dogs and what they actually consider comfortable.
I don't understand why people who know trains assume they therefore know what it is like to work a service dog on a train if they've never actually done it. I also don't understand the possessiveness of questions. Anyone is allowed to answer any question, not just the regulars in an area. Me, I answer service dog questions, regardless of what section they appear in.
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