Dogs are incredible! Many experts believe that we still don't know the full extent of their capabilities. They are so in tune with their surroundings and possess such an amazing awareness and insight into the people in their lives that it's hard to comprehend. So it's true when I say that when you're training your dog always stay calm because they can read you and if you're angry or nervous or stressed they know it and it affects them and their training. To illustrate their incredible abilities, consider this;

I have a good friend who fosters puppies during their first year of life for "Canine Partners for Life" and she's been doing it for many years. Then they move on to be trained for specific jobs by a trainer. Once these seemingly normal puppies complete all of their training they are transformed into miraculous life savers for many needy people. Below is an article about one of those dogs.

If this doesn't illustrate what seems to be a sixth sense in our canine buddies I don't know what does.

A miraculous companion

Cardiac alert dog helps Bethlehem college student avoid injuries due to fainting

August 29, 2011|BY MILTON D. CARRERO, Of The Morning Call

Carolyn Tomlinson's stomach would go in knots every time the phone rang.

It was an ominous sound that usually meant that her daughter, Shannon, was unconscious and on her way to the hospital aboard an ambulance. The calls came more than once during some weeks.

My husband and I lived on edge," Carolyn said. "The terror was always there."

Shannon, a sophomore studying media and communications at Muhlenberg College, suffers from a rare, autonomic disorder known as neurocardiogenic syncope that causes her to faint without warning. The 19-year-old Bethlehem honor student has suffered 13 concussions in 2 years. In 2010, she was transported by ambulance to the emergency room 24 times. This year, she has been rushed to the hospital 16 times.

But it hasn't happened again since May.

Everything changed in June in an almost miraculous way. Her blood pressure still drops on a whim and her condition has no cure. But the miracle is in her new cardiac alert dog, Clover. The 2-year-old Labrador retriever can detect Shannon's sudden changes in blood pressure and alert her to sit down and protect herself before she faints.

To warn her, Clover places her head on Shannon's leg, licks her hand and pants. Shannon must at this moment find a safe place to sit or lay down. Clover will insist on keeping Shannon in a relaxed position until the dog feels that she is safe. Sometimes Clover will rest on top of her to ensure Shannon doesn't rise abruptly.

"It's a very stressful time for her," Shannon says. "I need to listen immediately so that she learns that alerting is a good behavior."

So far, it has been a constant learning process. The success of this relationship is vital for both, and they each must benefit for it to work.

"She has to know that good things come from me," Shannon explains. "Treats are a very important part of our relationship. If we work hard together, we get to play hard, too."

No one in the house is allowed to pet Clover besides Shannon. Clover accompanies her 24 hours a day. Their bonding and exclusive interaction is key in preserving Clover's ability to detect changes in Shannon.

"It's hard because you realize she depends on me for everything, and I depend on her for so much," Shannon explains. "This relationship is one of the most important that I have because without her I would be a lot sicker, but without me she wouldn't have a loving home."

"She is always working," Shannon says about Clover. "Any time my heart has a problem, she needs to be ready to alert and tell me to get down."

Clover hasn't missed once since June 20. Shannon, who used to wear a helmet to school, can now cross the street, ride the bus and lead a semi-independent college life without fearing a devastating fall or a permanent head injury.

The feat defies logic, but is the result of arduous training, training and a certain intangible element that not even Shannon can describe.

Clover was bred and trained at Canine Partners for Life, one of five organizations to offer seizure alert dogs worldwide. The program, based in Cochranville, Chester County, follows a meticulous training regimen for owners and service dogs. The puppies spend their first year with a foster family to help them be socialized. After the first year, the dogs go with a trainer, who prepares them to become service dogs. Then they are ready to be matched with their lifelong partners.

Shannon was placed on a waiting list for more than a year. She went through training for several weeks until Clover picked her. Then they trained together.

"The first time I met her, she told me that I needed to lay down," Shannon says.

During a field trip to Longwood Gardens, Shannon was introduced to Clover by the Lab's trainer. When Shannon bent down to pet her, Clover alerted Shannon that her heart was in trouble by placing her head on Shannon's chest. The sudden change in position had caused her blood pressure to plummet. Shannon didn't know it, but her face became pale and she would have fainted had it not been for Clover.

Each of these dogs cost about $24,000 to raise and train. The program, subsisting mostly on donations, provides the dogs to people with disabilities for $1,000 to $3,000. Michael Leader, president of Allentown Country Meadows, donated the money for Clover.

The dogs can pick up dropped objects, assist with dressing and even turn people over in bed at night to prevent bed sores. But Clover's assistance to Shannon goes beyond the customary daily tasks. The dog's bond with her must be strong enough to detect not only her heartbeat but other subtle variations in her body and temperament that could trigger Shannon into fainting.

Perhaps the best demonstration of the cardiac alert dog's success so far lies in Carolyn's expressive smile as she watches her daughter playing with Clover in her backyard.

"It has been so life changing," her mother says. "I'm no longer afraid of the phone ring."

You can learn about Canine Partners for Life at, 610-869-4902.

Amazing! Do all dogs possess these capabilities? Who knows. I would guess some are more sensitive to some things while others may be more sensitive to other things like detecting cancer in people, or detecting seizures before they occur, or knowing some event like an earthquake is coming well before it hits. What is clear is that dogs can sense things that we can't. Maybe the next time your dog acts out of the ordinary around a stranger, we should listen.

Leave a reply