Emergency Medical Response Dogs (EMRD) are frequently called seizure alert dogs. These dogs are trained to respond to a medical event such as an epileptic seizure, diabetes-related fluctuations in blood sugar, and in some cases seizures caused by psychiatric disorders. While Service Dogs for America does not guarantee that a dog will sound an alert prior to the onset of a seizure, it’s our experience that most EMRD dogs detect the subtle changes in a person’s odor, respiration rates, and behavior before the average human’s ability to do so. Regardless, our EMRD dogs are trained to nudge their human partner when they notice something different, which allows the person to either take preventative medicine or get themselves in a safe place before a seizure occurs. The dogs may also bring medicine to their partners or perhaps a bottle of juice to a diabetic person.
A key component of an EMRD’s training is to seek help when a medical event does happen. For that reason the dogs are trained to find a specific person by name, or to press an alert button that could sound an alarm in another part of the house, such as a parent’s bedroom at night. Upon completion of these tasks, an EMRD dog will snuggle next to their partner and provide a reassuring presence as a person regains consciousness. While the last task sounds relatively simple, it can be a challenge in the training regimen as seizures can sometimes be violent and frighten the dog, not to mention the reactions of other people who witness the seizure. The dog—as well as other people in the household—must have a calm enough temperament to handle the event without excessive drama, and be receptive to medical personnel approaching the person if necessary.
While an emergency medical response dog may sound like a miracle solution to some individuals and families, it is imperative to remember they are still merely a dog and not a physician. If a person’s life depends on the dog’s response to a medical emergency, an EMRD is probably not the best choice. The bond we’ve seen between our best placements often takes months and sometimes years to develop and isn’t something that can be established instantly. Therefore, an EMRD is best considered as a tool in improving a person’s quality of life rather than one that saves it.