My Service Dog Alerts to My Narcolepsy Symptoms

Living with narcolepsy requires a variety of tools. Medication, for example. Adequate napping schedules, too, for many people.

Service dogs for narcolepsy are also an option for mitigating symptoms.

The cost of a trained service dog is often prohibitive

Unfortunately, fully-trained service dogs can cost $25,000 to $50,000 from service dog training organizations. The specialized training needed to perform tasks specific to certain disabilities can range from $20,000 to $30,000.1

This kind of money is often not available for many people with narcolepsy.

I knew I needed a service dog to live more independently

In 2018 I was a freshly graduated college student. I realized that I needed a service dog, but I couldn’t afford one for obvious reasons. I began reading about owner-trained service dogs and decided that was the route I needed to take.

It was something I knew deep inside. I wanted to be able to live my life more independently. I wanted to be able to know when sleep attacks would happen for me. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be so distressed when they happened. I could accept the symptoms and ride them out.

At the time, I was suffering from severe and near-constant sleep attacks. I couldn’t keep a schedule, which was a problem since I was in graduate school for another year. My automatic behaviors, where I drift into sleep while actively doing something, were at an all-time high.

Alerting to my sleep attacks

Training my service dog to alert to my sleep attacks was difficult by design. It is hard to train a dog while falling asleep!

In the early days of training, I started by training my dog to lay down and stay next to me while the sleep attack lasted. Before I would lay down, I would have her "alert" by touching her paw to my leg. She eventually learned to alert to my sleep attacks before they would happen.

My service dog is a German Shepherd, so she really likes to work. She’s constantly watching me for automatic behaviors. When I start scratching my head, an unfortunate automatic behavior that ends up hurting me, she jumps in to the rescue.

Alerting to my automatic behaviors

Training my service dog to alert to automatic behaviors was surprisingly easy. When I would start picking at my skin, or staring out into the distance for too long, I would instruct my dog to "alert." Eventually she learned to alert to the behaviors without me verbally commanding her to do so.

I only use positive training when it comes to training service dog tasks. This means that when I was training my dog, I used treats, toys, and affection as rewards for her doing a task.

I feel safer and more independent

Before I had her in my life, I wasn’t able to know as soon as I was having a sleep attack or when my automatic behaviors were onsetting. Having to teach my service dog to alert to them, and then reliably having her do so, helps me to better recognize my symptoms in the moment.

Finally, it’s good to know that my dog is there to support me when my symptoms act up. I feel safer and more independent whilst having a furry friend by my side.

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