"The service dog gives me an overall sense of security and independence. I am not as afraid to go into a public area where I can be vulnerable."
- Quote from Pawsitivity client, as seen in our independent, third-party Impact Evaluation.
In addition to the seizures, epilepsy affects lives in so many ways. For many, it's not just the seizures that cause suffering, it's also loneliness, frustration, or depression. A service dog won't cure your seizures. But you might be interested in the three ways it can help.
Pawsitivity trains Seizure Response Service Dogs to help with people with epilepsy in three ways:
The dogs are trained to respond to seizures; when their handler has a seizure, the dogs can alert others, protect the person, and help them as they recover from the seizure.
In many cases, seizure response dogs then, on their own, develop the ability to alert to seizures before the seizure actually occur. Scientists have now proved that the physiology of their handler prior to the onset of a seizure causes the handler to smell differently to the dog.
In addition to the added safety of having the dogs alert and/or respond to seizures, new studies show that the quality of life of the handler is greatly improved by the presence of the dog.
While a dog can smell seizures coming on, because they know so far in advance it can be difficult to reliably reward any behavior indicating that the seizure is coming on. There are a few service eog organizations who require handlers to go off their medication for months in order to have multiple seizures, and then they train the dog to alert to a cue (by using cotton balls infused with the saliva of the handler, which had been taken immediately after their seizure). We believe that the problems with this approach outweigh the benefits because every time someone has a seizure, they get permanent damage to their brain. While that approach certainly works in other organizations, for us, though, we believe that it is not worth it to ask handlers to go off their medication in an attempt to train the dog to alert. Thus, we focus on training the dog for seizure response, set up protocols to bond the dog to the handler, and then even if the dog doesn't alert on its own (hopefully it will, but it can't be promised), still, literally 100% of the handlers reported their quality of life improved (see studies below).
All our dogs undergo behavioral analysis and training to determine their suitability for seizure assistance work. Our standardized selection criteria used to select dogs include a calm disposition, responsiveness to humans, initiative, chase instinct, sensitivity to the handler, conﬁdence, ability to tolerate distractions, lack of hyperactivity, good attitude adaptability, crate/kennel livability, plus a complete veterinary evaluation.
Again - we don't ask handlers to stop taking their medication in order for us to train the dogs to alert to seizures (the hope is that with our training they will become intensely focused on the handler and then they develop that ability on their own), thus we train them to be very attentive to their handler and to respond to seizures.