How Service Dogs Are Trained for Dementia Patients

Service dogs can provide a helping hand for anyone suffering from dementia. They can be taught hundreds of small tasks that can really make a big difference to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients, giving them back some autonomy, allowing them to get more out of life and taking some of the burden from caregivers.

MORE: Ten benefits of having a service or therapy dog if you have Alzheimer’s.

From picking up dropped items to opening and closing doors and even notifying their handler if they haven’t taken their meds, dementia dogs can offer patients a lifeline and provide peace of mind for their handler and family members.

According to Alzlive.com, the training to become a dementia dog is no easy feat and requires young dogs to have a certain type of temperament. Service dogs tend to be one of a few breeds (labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds or collies), but just being one of these breeds doesn’t mean a dog will make the grade.

Dementia dogs need to be trained to have a protective mentality and to be able to almost second guess their handler. In some cases, the handler may not be able to physically handle the dog in the same way someone without dementia could, so the dog needs to be trained to deal with this.

The training process usually takes several months and begins with scent training, so the dog can build a bond with its new handler before they even meet. A garment with the handler’s scent is a major training tool, so when the dog and handler finally do meet, the dog will already feel acquainted with them.

The dementia dog will be taught tasks specifically to help their new handler over a period of approximately six months. Then the trainer will work alongside the handler and dog for a few days while they become familiar with each other.

MORE: The seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

7 comments

  1. Peggy says:

    What type of trainer is needed and can an older dog be trained to work with someone with alzheimer’s? Also where does one find a trainer to train a dog?

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Peggy, those are all great questions. However, most of the answers are going to be determined by your location and available services. For the most part, older dogs are not trained, but that is up to the individual dog’s temperment. We would recommend that you contact a local support group or your doctor to talk more about a service dog and what is required as most of the time you do need a prescription or recommendation.

  2. Sheila says:

    My husband has Alzheimer’s. Our son and wife have 2 dogs that we love. My husband is enamored with a 65 lbd black mouth cur. A very gentle male dog who loves attention and is very social and trainable, though shy. He is a rescue dog.
    They have another female rescue dog that is part dalmatian. Timid but full of spunk with us (especially my husband.) Though these dogs ages 5 and 4, are established with my son, his wife and 10 month old son. We feel they could be of benefit to us and would get more structure and exercise with us. Think this is a good idea?

  3. Louise N says:

    This is a tremendous development and one that we should have access to. I wish Wendy Henderson had done the journalistic research for us. My husband’s gerontologist had no idea what to say when I asked about service dogs for AD. I did a search and found nothing concrete, just a lot of redundant articles saying that studies were ongoing in Israel and Scotland. If there are places in the USA that currently train service dogs for AD patients, why are they not making that information available to the public? If you know that such organizations exist in the USA, please provide us with that information. Thank you!

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