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Canine Intuition

Canine IntuitionAccording to Tufts animal behavior expert Nicholas Dodman, a dog's ability to predict a human's impending seizure can be credited to its sharp senses.

No. Grafton, Mass. [02.15.07] Dogs are often described as man's best friends, but in a time of crisis, that friendship can prove to be lifesaving. In the case of seizures, for instance, studies have shown that dogs have a knack for not only predicting the onset of a seizure but in alerting their owners to the impending attack. Tufts professor and animal behavior expert Nicholas Dodman attributes this ability to a dog's sensitivity to its environment.

"[Seizure patients] feel very strange," Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, told ABC News. "They might hear things or smell things… they might start to behave differently. The dog will pick up on the altered behavior."

Dogs possess extraordinary senses of smell and hearing, says Dodman, making them more aware of the surrounding environment than humans are.

Dodman relayed the story of a dog trainer he knows who is an epileptic; when the dog senses she is about to have a seizure, it barks and circles her, warning her to leave the stressful environment that is inducing the seizure.

"On account of that procedure, with the dog alerting her and her removing herself from a situation, she's been able to discard her epileptic medication and the dog maintains her," he told ABC News.

Studies indicate, Dodman added, that dogs are able to predict both epileptic and non-epileptic seizures and alert their owners accordingly.

Besides alerting their owners to seizures, some dogs can also be trained to respond when seizures happen.

"When a person has a seizure, they can either stay with them and provide company, or be trained to go and get help, which is obviously very helpful if a person is alone and living in a sort of community where some people are nearby," Dodman told ABC News.

But medical crises aren't the only moments when the power of canine perception manifests itself.

"They do seem to predict curious things," Dodman said on the program. "Most dog owners who have thunderstorm-phobic dogs know that their dogs will pick up on a thunderstorm well before its coming. The sky is still blue, the dog starts to pace and they say, 'What is it the dog's picking up on?'"

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