What is the difference between a medical alert and a medical response service dog?

Medical Alert Dogs

Perhaps one of the most miraculous feats demonstrated by a service dog is the ability to sense a particular medical crisis both before it occurs and before the dog’s handler is aware that such a crisis is imminent. Upon sensing an impending medical crisis, the dog will communicate this to his or her handler. These service dogs are referred to as Medical Alert Dogs.

In most cases, the ability to sense an oncoming medical crisis is innate within the dog. This means that it is not a trained skill. In fact, regarding many medical conditions, it is not yet known for sure how dogs can sense the respective episodes or crises. Without knowing exactly what the dogs can and cannot sense, it is difficult to train a service dog to perform alert work for many medical conditions. In many cases, a dog who has not received training of this nature may simply become so bonded with his or her owner and in tune with the owner’s condition, that the dog may develop alerting skills naturally.

Dogs who demonstrate the ability to alert to a medical crisis can be trained to communicate with their handlers in various ways, like pawing at the handler, nudging the handler, jumping up on the handler, or barking. Some dogs develop unique ways of communicating with their handlers, like refusing to let them leave the house or even refusing to let them stand up. Each team is unique.

The significance of dogs who alert to medical crises before they occur is not in the alerts themselves, but in the opportunities that are presented to handlers to know something is awry before it happens. Once a handler is aware that a particular medical condition is going to occur, he or she can take appropriate action, like getting to a safe place, taking emergency medication, or getting help from someone else.

Medical Response Service Dogs

While not all service dogs possess the ability to detect a medical crisis before it happens and alert to it, that does not mean they cannot have jobs that are crucial to their handlers’ safety! There are innumerable things service dogs can do to assist their disabled handlers in response to medical crises. A service dog can be trained to respond in what is often a life-saving manner, once the handler begins to experience a medical crisis. These types of service dogs are referred to as “Medical Response Dogs.”

Some skills that medical response dogs can be trained to perform include, but are not limited to, seeking out another individual when their handlers are experiencing a medical crisis and need help, positioning their handlers in a manner that will keep them safe during a seizure, retrieving emergency medication, dialing 911 on phones equipped for use by service dogs and a wide variety of unique skills that not only give the gift of independence but can also mean the difference between life and death for their handlers.

Medical Assistance Dogs

Many service dogs that are trained to assist their handlers with medical crises possess both the ability to detect the medical crises before they occur and the skills that are necessary to take appropriate action once the medical crises have occurred. These dogs essentially combine the roles of both Medical Alert Dogs and Medical Response Dogs. Medical Assistance Dogs are used to mitigate an extraordinarily wide variety of medical conditions. Some of the most common medical conditions that these dogs assist their handlers with are those that entail changes in blood sugar, changes in blood pressure, seizures, syncope (fainting), migraines, and other debilitating symptoms.