What are you training him for? the tourist in the elevator going up to the High Line asks.  Or How long does it take to train a service dog?  A better question would be How do you teach a dog to alert seizures? because no one knows the answer so I wouldn’t be obliged to have a conversation when all I want is quiet and the company of my dog.

On the other hand, how do you train a dog to alert seizures? Of all the things service dogs can do, this one thing has to rank as one of the most valuable.  A seizure coming with no warning, as many do, means you can fall to the ground while crossing the street.  You can fall and break a bone.  You can fall and hit your head.  Or your poor face. It means you wouldn’t know to take your medication so you wouldn’t be able to minimize the seizure.  It means you’d wake up to strangers staring at you, if you woke up at all.

But a person without epilepsy cannot train a dog to react to or predict seizures.  How would they do that?  You could fake it for a human, but not for a dog.  The dog does not react to play acting.  He is reacts to an impending internal storm.  And a person with epilepsy cannot train the dog because if there is no warning and a seizure starts, the person is out of commission.

So how do you teach a dog to alert seizures?

You don’t.  The dog teaches himself.


It is by being with his human 24/7 that dogs learn to respond to medical conditions.  On their own, they figure out how to help with pain, indicate low blood sugar, get a stuck limb moving, calm anxiety, and yes, while it helps tremendously to say, Good dog, letting the dog know that this behavior is exactly what you want, that he is, if not already there, on the right track, you can’t always do that.  And in that case, the dog, on his own, will have to figure things out.  He will need to know what to do when he senses a seizure coming.  He will need to know how to behave while the seizure lasts. He will need to know how to help bring his person back.  And when he does that, he is more precious than rubies.

Remember that it is natural for a dog to understand the difference between sick and well – he comes from an animal who hunts to survive and no animal who hunts could survive without this knowledge. When you’re hungry, when there are young back at the cave to feed, you want the easiest catch, not the one who will fight back and might injure you.  You  want the lame, the old, the less fit.  And our domestic dogs still have this knowledge but luckily they use it to help us, not to have us for lunch.



Will any dog learn to alert seizures?  Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.  And there’s the real difficulty. But chances are, given a very strong bond and the constant companionship of their person, a dog with a strong sense of nurturing would do the job. And given the alternative, it sure is worth a try.