For those struggling with epilepsy or other seizure-causing conditions, your four-legged best friend can help you live your life to the fullest—and keep you out of harm’s way.
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world—some 65 million people across the globe are affected, with 3.4 million patients in the United States alone—and many people with this condition avoid certain daily activities for the fear of having a seizure in public and potentially harming themselves.
That’s where a seizure alert dog comes in. These service animals are trained to warn their owner about the onset of a seizure—which means that they can feel confident about their safety while engaging in routine tasks outside the home, from working to grocery shopping to going to the gym.
While it’s not entirely known how some dogs are able to predict a seizure before it happens, it’s believed that they can detect a change in scent being emitted from their owner. These dogs are trained to paw, whine, or bark at their owner, or they may begin engaging in behaviors like pacing or circling prior to the seizure. That warning allows the owner to prepare by finding a safe place and position to prevent a seizure-related injury.
There’s also another type of working dog called a seizure response dog—these dogs are trained to perform various behaviors after a seizure has already occurred, from standing next to their owner to break their fall to retrieving an alert device or medication.
There are certain mixed and purebred dogs believed to have an innate skill for detecting seizures. Here are 6 breeds (and their mixes) to consider for those in need of seizure alert support.
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German Shepherds are the hallmark of all service animals, followed closely by Golden Retrievers. And with good reason—these strong, intelligent dogs are confident, brave, and steady, and have long been considered one of the finest all-purpose working animals.
German Shepherds possess exceptional character and personality, and all while having a natural ability to complete a variety of commands for specific tasks. Above all, the German Shepherd is fiercely loyal to its family, and is willing to put his or her life on the line for their owner.
Height: 22 to 26 inches
Weight: 60 to 100 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Coarse, medium-length double coat. Most colors are acceptable, such as bicolor, black and tan, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, solid black, gray, sable. Note that blue or liver is unfavorable based on breed standard. White is not an acceptable color based on breed standard.
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Another highly intelligent breed, the Golden Retriever is a trustworthy, loyal dog that’s both eager to please and easy to train. These affectionate dogs want nothing more in life than to please their owner, and they have become go-to service animals in part because of their ability to adapt to new situations as well as their gentle, sensitive nature. The Golden Retriever is also known for being confident, calm, and alert, which is why their personality is well-suited to becoming seizure alert dogs.
Height: 23 to 24 inches (males); 21.5 to 22.5 inches (females)
Weight: 65 to 75 pounds (males); 55 to 65 pounds (females)
Physical Characteristics: Medium length double coat in light to dark gold, medium to large stature
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The Samoyed is a substantial, powerful dog. This breed is both beautiful and functional—they are extremely smart and social, and have a tendency to work tirelessly for the sake of their owner.
Dubbed “smiling sled dogs,” the Samoyed was bred to complete strenuous jobs in the world’s coldest locations, but these agile dogs also have an instinctual drive to translate that work ethic into serving as a reliable companion for those in need.
Height: 21 to 23.5 inches (males); 19 to 21 inches (females)
Weight: 45 to 60 pounds (males); 35 to 50 pounds (females)
Physical Characteristics: Thick undercoat beneath a soft, fluffy, and straight outer coat, primarily bright white, though some are more cream or biscuit (extremely light brown)
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An incredibly intelligent workaholic, the Border Collie has a seemingly endless amount of energy and is considered to be one of the most agile and robust of all dog breeds. These dogs excel in agility training thanks to their athleticism, intelligence, and trainability—and it’s those precise qualities that make them such an unwavering seizure alert dog.
An athletic herding breed, the Border Collie isn’t happy unless they have a job to do, and that’s why these dogs take their responsibility as a service animal very seriously.
Height: 18 to 22 inches at the shoulder
Weight: 28 to 48 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Rough or smooth medium-length double coat with a coarse outer coat and a soft undercoat that can be a solid color, bicolor, tricolor, merle, or sable. Usually seen in black, blue, blue merle, brindle, gold, lilac, red, or red merle (with or without patches of white)Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Whether you opt for an English, Gordon, or Irish setter, these mild-tempered sporting dogs are fast, beautiful, and lovable. Setters are also known to be eager to please their humans, and with patient, positive training, they can develop into dependable seizure alert dogs.
Though historically tasked as hunting partners, their cheerful dedication to their work and confident, affectionate nature makes them a fine choice for service animals.
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Possibly one of the more surprising choices for a service dog, poodles are sometimes recruited by organizations that train service animals to perform seizure alert services. Though this aristocratic breed has developed a stereotype for being spoiled or dainty, they’re actually quite athletic, incredibly smart, and eager to please their owner. These agile, graceful dogs are easily-trained and very people-oriented, and that’s why they make versatile seizure alert dogs.
Height: Standard: over 15 inches; miniature: 10 to 15 inches; toy: 10 inches and under
Weight: Standard: 45 to 70 pounds; miniature: 15 to 18 pounds; toy: 5 to 9 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Curly, dense single coats that may be one of many solid colors, including but not limited to white, black, grey, brown, and apricot. Parti-colored poodles are accepted by some registries.