In many parts of the world, a service dog is considered a valuable caregiver and are actually paid. The fee covered food and toys for the dog and saves the health system up to 29,000 pounds a year for a human caregiver.
And costs incurred may also be a deduction for income tax purposes for the handler in some countries. Check into it in your country.
In Canada, typically it is only the costs to maintain service dogs provided by non-profit societies that can be deducted, but save your receipts and ask your tax man in case the laws have changed in the last year.
In the US, you can deduct the costs for an owner-trained service or assistance dog (but not an emotional support dog or therapy dog).
While scientists do not yet understand the trigger that dogs recognize to know a seizure is coming, they do know that the foundation of response training is simple: reward a behavior the dog does (pawing, grabbing sleeve, getting agitated in any way, barking, licking, etc) while the owner is having a seizure. This is called a conditioned response. A dog trained this way is called a seizure response dog, one that responds to the seizure as it is happening.
A seizure alert dog is able to predict that the seizure is coming. Some dogs appear to have this as an innate ability while others can develop it. This is not something that can be trained so far as we know today. What may happen over time is the seizure response dog learns to look for smaller and smaller clues (whatever they are) to predict the seizure will happen so they can get rewarded sooner (an example is a dog that is fed on a regular schedule that starts 'asking' for supper earlier and earlier.) Some dogs can predict seizures up to 45 minutes in advance.
(Source: European Journal of Epilepsy Seizure Brown, Steven W, Dr. & Val Strong 1999)
BC Epilepsy Society defines the difference between the two dogs:
Of course, training a seizure response dog is more complicated than simple behavior conditioning. In order to be a valid service dog in any jusidiction, the dog also needs to have all the foundation behaviors, such as basic obedience behaviors, being calm in public, ignoring distractions like food, kids, other dogs, cats, and people, plus it is recommended to have at least 3 specially-trained behaviors such as responding to the seizure by providing comfort, getting help, pressing an emergency alarm, dragging harmful objects away from the person as they are having a seizure, carrying information about the handler's medical condition, rolling them over to prevent airway blockages, blocking the person from falling down stairs, helping to re-orient the person as they come out of their seizure, helping the person to stand after a seizure (called bracing), guiding their disoriented person to a predetermined location for help, or reminding their person to take their medication regularly.
Not all dogs seem to be able to predict seizures. Some studies suggest only 10-15% of dogs can alert to seizures before they occur. Success may depend on the type of seizures the owner is having. Psychological seizures are induced by stress and epileptic seizures cause a change in the chemistry in the brain. For some seizure suffers, having an alert dog can lead to less frequent seizures. Further research still needs to be done in all these areas.
Even if a service dog does not learn to alert to a seizures, their handler can still benefit from the dog as s/he can stay with the person and comfort them as they recover (by laying beside them), lick them as they re-orient, or go get help as the seizure is happening (or the other tasks listed above). Of course, seizure response dogs offer constant emotional support as well.
Is it possible to train your own seizure response dog? Yes, if you have frequent seizures (I.e. your seizures are not being well-controlled by medication, some studies suggest once a month or more) and you have help from a person who can reward the dog while you are having a seizure (or you have regular access to a person who has seizures frequently.)
Then take the challenge of taking corrections (punishment) off the table!
It's a simple as that!
Why would you do that? Because the vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors.
Reread that last sentence and digest it.
"The vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors."
This is sad but true. If you videotape yourself training, you will find that anytime your dog makes a mistake (assuming he has actually learned the behavior) it is because of a mistake you made or something you overlooked in the environment. Rather than correct the dog's behavior, look at it as a way to improve your own training. What is it that you have missed in his training that set him up for failure?
Here is a list of the 11 most common parts of training that are missed by handlers training their own service dogs:
Handler's lack of ability to read their dog's communication.
A stressed dog cannot think about his behavior. Happily, there are a series of early behaviors that give the handler an idea of the stress level of their dog. Learn what those are and change the training environment so your dog's stress level is reduced. Stress can be both good (excitement) and bad (worry) as well as emotional (scared) and physical (tired). Join the Facebook Observations Skills group to learn more.
Not explaining the behavior in enough different ways so your dog can understand what you want.
Like humans, dogs learn in different ways. Some learn by watching another dog do a behavior. Some learn by watching their human do a behavior. Some dogs love shaping. Almost all can learn by capturing a behavior as he does it naturally. Luring works too but fade the lure as quickly as you can or the dog can become reliant on it as part of the cue.
Using the wrong motivator.
We all need some sort of motivation to learn and perform a behavior. Would you still go to work if your boss didn't pay you? Find out what it is that your dog loves and use that! Food, toys, playing with you can all work well. Just make sure it is something your dog really wants. Also, adjust the motivator for the level of difficulty of the behavior and the environment you are training in. Lower value for easier behaviors, known behavior or training in low distraction locations. Medium for middle of the road challenges and higher value for the more difficult/distracting locations.
Failure to teach the behavior at a distance.
While most dogs learn to do a behavior close to you, they have no idea they can do a behavior at a distance. That must be trained incrementally. If you haven't done that, then your dog's failure is your mistake, not his.
Failure to teach the behavior with duration.
How long the dog can do a behavior also takes specific training. Duration can be hard for puppies, adolescents and for impulsive dogs. When you play games, think of the ones you give up on. Those are the ones where the game just gets longer (boring) and does not allow you many successes. So vary the length of what you ask, always making sure to do some easier ones so the behavior isn't always getting harder. It also helps to pair stationary activities with active ones.
Increasing the level of distractions too quickly.
Dogs can learn to ignore distractions quickly, but you do need to vary their level too. Be creative with the type of distractions Do you know the days you crawl out of bed and are sensitive to sounds? Perhaps you are feeling a little "off" today? Dogs have those days too! Particularly in adolescence when hormonal changes vary day to day. If he have had too many stressors the day before, he might need a day of lower distractions to recover. Realize that there will be some situations when your dog is distracted from the start and won't be able to succeed. On those days, lower the distraction level or change your training location. It might mean moving just a few feet to one side or going somewhere else altogether.
Failure to teach cue discrimination.
Dogs as social learners typically learn physical cue (like body and hand signals) very easily. However, they may find verbal cues much harder. Take the time to teach your dog that different hand signals and different words mean different behaviors. Be aware that many words share the same starting consonant or the same vowel sounds. That is very confusing. "Slow" and "Go" can be hard to tell apart. "Sit" and "Stand" may as well.
Plan what verbal cues you will use. It helps to keep a running list of both hand and verbal cues so you can see where movement and sounds might overlap. It happens much more often than people think, especially once your dog has learned many behaviors! Additionally, handlers often use a hand signal at the same time as a verbal cue. If the hand signal and verbal cue differ, almost all dogs will choose to follow the hand signal.
Insufficient change of position.
Dogs are discriminators by nature, which means they look for the small details, not the larger patterns. So you must proof behaviors for position changes (both the dog and you). Can your dog do a cued behavior with you sitting on the ground? Laying on a bed? Can the dog do the behavior (say holding an object) when sitting, standing, laying down, turning around, changing from one position to another etc? If you haven't already taught him that he can do a behavior with each of these changes, then you are punishing him for your lack of training. No fair!
Not giving your dog a chance to acclimate to a new environment.
Acclimation is giving your dog a chance to assess the environment he is in. When you go to a party (or any new location), do you mark right in and start talking? Probably not. Think of the first few times you went a party. You felt awkward and worried. You probably stopped near the entrance and looked around, noting where the bathroom was, where the food was, the music and chairs and if there was another exit. That allowed you to know where you could move to depending on how you are feeling. Dogs need to do the same. Give your dog a chance to look (and sniff if appropriate) in a limited area (such as the length of the leash) before starting to focus on you. Capture any focus he chooses to give you and you will find you will get more. Giving him time to acclimate will build his confidence in new places and he can focus on you.
Not enough generalization.
Since dogs are discriminators, they do look for the details. So if your dog learned to nose nudge your leg beside the refrigerator, the refrigerator might be something he looks for a clue to what behavior you want. If it is not present, he has to then start guessing. Your dog needs you to give him enough practice in many different environments so he can learn what the key points to watch for (environmental, hand signal, verbal cue?) to tell him what behavior you want from him. Start teaching each behavior from the beginning in each new environment and you will find he relearns the behavior faster and faster in each new location. Eventually, he will be able to walk in and perform that behavior with just the cue, no retraining.
No maintenance of trained behaviors.
Just like humans, if they don't use behaviors, they forget them. Maintenance involves reviewing and even retraining a behavior periodically to put and keep it in long-term memory. Plan to practice new behaviors at least once every two weeks to a month in the beginning, then once every couple of months after that.
If you take correction (punishment) off the table, then you will learn so much more about how to best teach your dog.
Want to learn more? Check out our Foundation Skills classes. The classes are for the handler are much as they are for the dog!
The fastest growing sector of service dogs is the use for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Anxiety. Many non-profit organizations will train and supply dogs for veterans but there is a huge population who can also benefit from these dogs such as people who have suffered traumatic events in their life or others who have been emotionally abused. Some people group these under Psychiatric Service Dogs, or dogs for invisible disabilities.
- interrupt anxiety behaviors as soon as they start (such as picking, self-harm behaviors)
- interrupt absentee (disassociation) behaviors
- deep pressure therapy
- request that dog be removed from an anxiety-provoking situation
- lead person to the exit
- find the car
- providing a physical block between the handler and other people (in crowds or in a waiting line for example)
- provide tactile support for focus/grounding or interrupt sensory overload
- wake the handler from night terrors or to get out of bed in the morning
- go ahead of the handler into a room turn and lights on
- medication reminders
- carry medication
- get help
- provide balance on stairs for lightheadedness
- carry medical supplies
- alert to smoke alarm (if the handler is sedated)
- bring the phone when the handler is in a panicked state
- open front door for the handler when in panic (only if there is an outside storm door)
This month, we are offering a new online class for Anxiety Alerts. Take a look!
Alzheimer's Alert dogs are dogs that are trained to help the caregiver but also provide emotional support and companionship to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. In some cases, they can also lead a disoriented person home.
Some common tasks they are trained to do:
*Stay near the person with Alzheimer's Disease and interact with them for companionship.
*Alert the caregiver (usually a family member) when the person is on the move. For example, if the person gets out of their chair or out of bed, the dog goes and gets the caregiver to prevent wandering. The dogs are trained in the same way hearing alert dogs are. One specific sound the chair makes as the person stands up becomes the cue for the dog to run for help. It would be considered a 'one way alert' (one way alert video). If the dog needs to take the caregiver to the person, it would be called a 'two way alert' (two way alert video). If this occurs at night, the dog will also need to wake the sleeping caregiver.
For our sound alert video examples: replace the alarm clock sound with the chair squeaking the floor or the person's feet hitting the floor. The dog runs and finds the caregiver, gives the trained alert, and brings the caregiver back to the person with Alzheimer's disease.
*Since people with Alzheimer's also lose their sense of smell and do things that might cause them harm (such as burning food, overloading washing machines etc), the dog's nose can be used to alert the caregiver to these smells. Pair the scent of food burning in the microwave, or the burning rubber of a washing machine with the alert behavior and add distance from the caregiver. Train a two way alert so the caregiver knows where to go. Some dogs do these alerts naturally and their technique (alert behavior) can be refined.
*Push or nudge the person with Alzheimer's away from doors. If alarms are on the doors, go get the Caregiver.
*Remind the caregiver to help person with Alzheimer's take their medication.
*They can be trained to guide the person home if they become disoriented. Walking is a key way to decrease the need to wander. The "Home" cue has the dog lead the person safely home, navigating obstacles etc.
The temperament of an Alzheimer's Support/Alert Dog is key, as they must be very social and have high play drive, yet calm enough to lay for hours by the side of the Alzheimer's person. They must also be resilient to the rapid changes of mood displayed by some people with Alzheimer's.
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