Junior Handler Shows Canaan Dog with Seizure Alert Skill

seizure alert skills

When 14-year-old junior handler Ethan Miller was in utero, he contracted a brain infection that left him with Cerebral Palsy. As a result, he has no fine motor skills in his left arm. He also has a seizure disorder. Ethan grew up around dogs, as his mother, Christina Miller (Chris), has shown many different breeds over the course of her life. Her most recent interest has been in Canaan Dogs.

When Ethan was very young, Chris noticed something amazing about one of their Canaan Dogs, Rayah. She was able to sense Ethanís seizures before their onset. About 30-60 seconds before Ethanís seized, Rayah would get very agitated and make sure to notify Chris, giving her time to prepare her son and make sure he was safe.

Though there is still much research to be done on this topic, Chris explains that the most likely explanation for this and other dogsí special ability to sense seizures is simply that their senses of smell are 10,000 times keener than a humanís. There are chemical changes that start happening in the body of a person who is about to seize. These changes sometimes start even 5 minutes before any outward symptoms of a seizure occur.

The Miller family and their seizure alert dogs have received only a small amount of recognition, and most of that attention was immediately after Rayah was honored with a 2005 AKC Ace award. Chris speculates that the lack of press about this skill comes from the fact that neither dog is registered officially as a service dog. There is no process to register seizure alert dogs, because there is no way to train a dog to be able to do this. A seizure alert dog simply displays their ability. As Chris explains ďthere just has to be that bond there for it to work.Ē

Ethan Miller has had that special bond with two dogs now, both Canaan Dogs. Rayah is now 13 years old and, though she still lives happily with the Millers, she no longer participates in shows. Vala, a 4-year-old Canaan Dog (no relation to Rayah) has become Ethanís show dog.

Over the years, their close relationship has developed and Vala now exhibits the same seizure alert behaviors that Rayah once did. In their years of working together, Vala has alerted Chris to the only two seizures that Ethan has had in that time. Chris says that her sonís seizure disorder has been very well controlled in recent years, mostly through medication. He has been completely seizure free for the past three years and recently received a clear EEG.

Ethan has been part of the dog show world since he was six years old. He is a fourth generation AKC handler. He has shown dogs on three continents. Though he showed Rayah at Crufts when he was just 8 years old, and he has already won an Australian Championship, this is his first ever appearance at Westminster. When asked about his early impressions he thought carefully back to his Crufts experience 6 years earlier and said ďThis oneís more . . . busy. There are more people just interested in dogs. They ask more questions here I think.Ē

The Canaan Dogs showed here at Westminster on Monday afternoon. Though Vala and Ethan did not place, both seemed in good spirits and proud to be a part of their first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

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