Service Dog Column: Listen to your dog

by Carlene White

I never say we train dogs to anticipate a seizure, and I will never say that — because I don’t know how you could do that. How would you practice? 

I know that there are places that say they can do that, and my question remains: “How?”

I think what happens is that when you live with a dog, the dog will tell you a lot of things if you pay attention — and the fact you’re about to have a seizure is certainly one of them.

We put a picture in the paper in the last few weeks of Steve and Proxy (Proxy being the dog). Now, they haven’t lived together very long yet, but the other night, sound asleep, Proxy decided that Steve should get up. And he kept at it.

Steve thought maybe Proxy had to go outside, but that wasn’t the case. When Steve got up to see if he wanted to go outside, he noticed he was slightly light-headed. So, he checked his blood sugar … and it was very low.

We get this kind of comment all the time — enough so that I very often say many dogs seem to possess this ability.

I would even go far enough to say most every dog will let you know a lot of things — not just seizures, or people at the front door, or a funny noise in the yard, or a funny smell. 

I just happen to have a case of detecting an odor. We had a service puppy, Peggotty, that just was not going to be able to settle down enough to be a service dog.

So, on a lark, and because Peggotty was so alert, I thought I’d try and train her to respond to a repetitive noise, which is something a deaf person could use.

I certainly don’t want the responsibility of having trained a dog to do this. I started by putting a paper cup of treats over the front door and then having a friend stand and ring the doorbell over and over again.

Finally, the dog came to me and led me to the noise at the front door, at which time I reached up, got a cookie, and fed the dog.

It did not take long for Peggotty to figure that out, so the next stage was to have someone call my name over and over again until she again figured, “Go get her.”

The dog was really very reliable in less than a week. Without guaranteeing anything, I gave he to a deaf friend from Pittsburgh. 

Two months later, Peggotty jumped on the bed in the middle of the night, and her owner realized there was a funny smell.

She got up and smelled smoke. Then, she got 12 people out of their apartment building … which then burned to the ground. 

I am not going to guarantee to be able to train our dogs to do this, but that happened.

Listen to your dog.

Carlene White is founder and president of the non-profit Service Dog Project on Boxford Road in Ipswich. She trains and raises Great Danes to donate to the mobility impaired. Read more of her columns here.



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