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Personal account by Melissa Mitchell

by Melissa Mitchell
Reprinted with permission from the "Service Dogs: a Way of Life" blog.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reflections from my Experience with Medical Alert and Response Dogs

Einstein can Seizure Alert, though none of us can say what is tipping him off to his partner's seizures.When She and I were raising him, we knew that dogs from his line have alerted in the past; however, no one could guarantee he would ever alert. His partner, Katie --very much the realist-- knew from her first service dog that while the alert was great what she really needed was a dog to respond to the seizure in order to protect her life by getting help and or activating and emergency alert system. She also knew from experience that having a dog who would then return to her and stay with her until she regained consciousness helped her to feel less afraid in her disoriented and exhausted state following a seizure.

Einstein is trained to:
-Get Help (if help is not available he stays with her)
-Return to her after getting help and stay with her.
-Recognize Emergency Personnel and give them space to work
-Find Family Members on cue as soon as Katie is able to speak again
-Stop at Curbs, Streets, Stairs to help prevent a disoriented Katie from stumbling the street or falling down stairs that she may not see right away.
-Find the Family car
-Provide light Stability and Balance work to help keep Katie from Falling when in a weakened state after a seizure

As with all training and behaviors, the response and alert behaviors have to be consistently paid attention to and reinforced by Katie when she is able and those around her when she is not able. If the person looking for an alert of any kind does not have the awareness and cognitive ability to respond to the dog and reward them for their work, the dog will eventually stop bothering to do the behavior in question. No one, not even a dog works for nothing. (see Excel-erated Learning, Pamela Reid).

From Einstein Seizure Care
All of Katie's friends and family have been taught by her how to work with her dogs and help maintain their training by reinforcing/rewarding the dog for a job well done when she cannot. She also carries with her and uses a number of reward approach when she is out alone and has a seizure everything from verbal praise to petting and toys. Every effort is made to ensure the dog has a positive association with the seizures. That being said everyone recognizes that the job is very demanding and works hard to ensure the dog has off time to relax and play.

As with any service dog a person with any sort of medical alert/ response dog should not put all their eggs in one basket depending solely on a dog to be on constant and fail proof look out. Dogs are living creatures that make mistakes, can decide that something else is more important, or get sick and be unable to work. Anyone with a service dog needs to have back up plans and alternate ways of maintaining both theirs and their dog's health and safety.
Remember folks Lassie and Rin Tin Tin are fictional characters brought to us through the magic of Hollywood-- They don't exist. As great as our service dogs are, and they are. We as partners need to be realistic and fair about how they truly have the capacity to help and our role in how successful they are in doing so each and every time it happens.

More Reading on Seizure Dogs(this really applies to any type of medical alert people may be looking for in my opinion).
Seizure-Alert Dogs--Just the Facts, Hold the Media Hype by Jenna Martin
Seizure Dogs: Predicting Seizures vs. Assistance During a Seizure by Michael Sapp, Sr.


Melissa Mitchell is an active member of the Service Dog Central community and is also the author of the "Service Dogs: a Way of Life" blog. This article is reprinted by permission from her blog which contains many other good articles on service dog life. This article is (c) 2010 Melissa Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Read the original article, complete with photographs at: http://servicedogsawayoflife.blogspot.com/2010/03/reflections-from-my-ex...