EnHABiT Support for Families and Individuals Living with Epilepsy and Dogs

Have you considered the potential in your own dog to help reduce your stress, improve your quality of life and yes, perhaps even let you know that you or your loved one are about to have a seizure? How would you feel, knowing that your dog could help you manage your response to stressful events? The secret is in the relationship you develop with your dog and in recognizing that this is entirely possible and in your control.

Dogs can play a special and unique role for individuals and families living with epilepsy. It is well known that dogs can have a beneficial influence on our emotional well-being. They are also very sensitive to our emotional states. Compared to people, dogs have a greater percentage of their brain dedicated to emotions. Because of this, dogs process information emotionally and are motivated into actions, or in-actions, by their emotional states. This is especially true in their interactions with people. How we make them feel emotionally determines both the quality of our interactions we have with them as well as the quality of the bond that develops. As a result, people have a huge influence on their dog’s ability and desire to serve.

Consider in any given moment that our dogs can sense our emotional state and they will look to their person in order to interpret the current situation. If their person feels calm, trusting and peaceful, she will emote that. The dog will sense that everything is “good” and respond in kind. However, if she feels fearful, angry or confused, the dog will interpret the situation as potentially unsafe and will also become either fearful, protective or be confused. This is particularly important to understand when we desire our dogs to perform or assist during (or in anticipation of) a stressful event, such as a seizure.

As stated on the Epilepsy.com website, some people with epilepsy have reported that their dogs are able to “sense” when a seizure is coming and therefore able to reduce their seizure-related injuries. This behavior has been reported in a number of different breeds. It is possible that dogs can detect some change (for instance, an odor) that warns them of an approaching seizure. No scientific studies of seizure-alert dogs have been completed; however it is likely that the accuracy of the dog’s predictive skills will vary considerably for different patients and different dogs. One consistent factor is that in order for the dog to effectively communicate an impending seizure event, it must believe that it will be listened to by its bonded human.

By applying the principals of EnHABiT, you can learn to recognize and manage your stress response. You can learn how to do this through your emotional mirrors…your dogs. You will also recognize how you are impacting your dogs’ ability to serve. Seizure alerting cannot be guaranteed, however through the application of the principals of EnHABiT, you can develop the listening, communication and bonding skills that are necessary for dogs to “feel” heard, understood, appreciated and impactful in improving situations. Regardless of the alerting outcome, when you learn how to effectively manage your stress response, you will feel less stress, closer bonds, more in control, and have improved quality of life.

Learn more about Engaging the Human Animal Bond in Tandem (EnHABiT) and how you can tap into your own dog’s potential for service by contacting Dr. Corinna Murray.