Epilepsy and Assistance Dogs | Liv and Huxley's Story
At a recent DogFest in Tatton Park, we had the pleasure of meeting Liv and her beautiful Fox Red Labrador Retriever, Huxley. Hux is a two-year-old assistance animal with a big personality who helps Liv with her epileptic seizures and anxiety.
Liv was kind enough to talk to us about what he does for her and she also sent us these incredible photos of Hux enjoying our Crunchies.
What is an assistance dog?
Assistance dogs can be trained for people with seizures, just like they can be trained as guide dogs.
According to the Epilepsy Society, “Seizure alert dogs are specially trained to warn their owner before a seizure starts, so they can get help or move to somewhere safe. Training with a seizure alert dog can be intensive.”
Epilepsy assistance dog breeds
Epilepsy is a common medical condition that affects the brain function and causes recurrent seizures, which are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works.
Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually begins in either childhood or much later in life.
For Liv, it was the former. “I had my first full seizure around the age of eleven and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. It affects my life on the daily and my anxiety contributes to my seizures, sometimes making them worse.
“I’m able to cope now and Hux helps a lot to keep me safe. He is a multi-purpose assistance dog, meaning he alerts and tasks to my epilepsy and anxiety. He can detect and prevent seizures before they even happen, and he is able to interrupt my anxiety related behaviours and keep me calm and grounded.”
Labradors as assistance dogs
Whilst all gundogs are bred to assist their human partners, originally in hunting and retrieving game, they can do so in very different ways.
Intelligent, affectionate and loyal, Labradors are often top of the list when it comes to assistance animals and Hux was specially chosen from a breeder in Cornwall.
“When we went, we were speaking with the breeder, and she recommended Hux for us - he was active but had an off switch and showed quality signs of what I’d like in an assistance dog.
“I knew I wanted an active breed, as I love agility. Assistance dog work was always in the back of my head but wasn’t a top priority at the time.”
Training an assistance animal
Assistance dogs are trained to reliably warn their owners of an oncoming seizure up to fifty minutes before they start, giving them time to find help if needed.
Hux alerts Liv around thirty minutes before her tonic-clonic seizures happen, allowing her to get to safety in time.
It has taken roughly a year and a half to train him, “His training has been really good; he picked up on tasks quickly and naturally alerted to my pre-epilepsy signs, so I shaped the behaviour to a solid alert and task.
"We are still polishing some things up and he is forever loving learning."
Hux is actually able to prevent some seizures from happening and shorten others. "This is possible for me because stress is one of my many triggers and he is able to pick up on my stress and anxiety beforehand. Hux will then do everything he can do to get me to focus my attention on him, which reduces my stress levels.
"With my absent seizures, they come and go pretty fast and only last thirty seconds to one min (they look like I’m daydreaming), he will usually lick my hand or jump up at me to indicate to me what has happened and what may continue to happen.
"I’m usually fine after my absences, as they are pretty quick, but Hux is always by my side in case something else may occur."
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