Creating An Alzheimer’s Dog Team

My vision included a team of a human caregiver and a specially trained Alzheimer's assistance dog, working together to insure the best possible care for the patient at home.   I had no idea what the dog’s job was.  Caregivers I interviewed had too many ideas.   I did know the dog’s task must have a sound associated with it which could be duplicated for training purposes. What did caregivers need help with that made a specific sound a dog could be trained to identify?  Perhaps listen for the patient's feet to hit the floor creating a potential wandering situation?  Statistics said that 70% of Alzheimer's patients will eventually wander--a real problem.  I decided that a trained dog would listen for the patient's feet to hit the floor and when that sound occurred the dog would immediately "self-start" and alert the caregiver to the potential wandering situation.  The dog could help the caregiver get a good night’s sleep.  The caregiver would not have the entire responsibility of monitoring the patient’s night time activities.  The dog would help make sure the patient was not "in trouble.” 


 I foresaw three pitfalls.  One--no one had ever asked a dog to work for more than one person (one blind person and one dog) and I would be asking the dog to work for two people simultaneously; one caregiver and one patient.  Secondly--Alzheimer’s dog would have to be a "self-starting" dog knowing exactly when to work and when not too--without a human verbal command.  Thirdly-- the dog would have to work within the environment of dementia.  Dementia is not easy for a person to cope with let alone a canine that by nature clues into more stimuli than a person. 

Alzheimer's Dog Training History

Dogs love pleasing their masters and caregivers

I was having serious doubts when I received a call from a friend who had found a young, injured female mutt.  She had taken the dog in and it was recovering nicely--even showing signs of trusting people.  I tested the dog and was thrilled that it excelled in each stage of testing.  What really impressed me was the fact that with everything the dog had been through she was still willing to please me, a stranger.  Without hesitation I decided this canine would be the prototype.  Her foster mom named her Tootsie.  She sailed through training to becoming the first successful Alzheimer’s assistance dog.  In retrospect I marveled that previous to meeting and testing this dog I felt that it might be impossible to find a dog with all of the pre-requisites required to make it through Alzheimer’s training.  In life, timing is everything.  Not only did I have a caregiver and patient needing a trained dog but now (almost dropped into my lap) was a deserving dog who also needed her own family.  How awesome was God’s timing!      

Do you know someone who has Alzheimer's and could use an assistance dog? Or are you a caregiver and you'd like to learn more about Alzheimer's Assistance Dogs and how you, the patient, and the dog can work together as a team?

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  • Candace says:

    I wish I would have known about Alzheimer’s assistance dogs while I was taking care of my Dad for two years before he died. I’m tempted to call the Alzheimer’s assisted living place that took care of my dad and ask them if they’ve heard about this strategy.

    For years, I was writing in my journal wondering why there weren’t more things that caregivers could do for Alzheimer’s patients at home. Bless you for creating this site so that others can learn from your experience.


    • Patti says:

      Like you, it amazes me that Alzheimer’s has only recently “come out of the closet”. But there has been progress. It was an eye-opening experience for me the first time I took my Alzheimer’s dog out in public, complete with her identifying vest. I was not prepared for the amount of strangers who came up to me and my dog asking me questions about the dog and sharing their own stories with me. They all told of isolation, and few places for support. The majority of these people wanted a dog like mine feeling that the dog would have lightened their load and been a blessing to them and their loved one. Some shed tears. I knew then that we were on the right track creating “Alzheimer’s Assistance Dog”. Now, helping caregivers train their own dogs is the beginning of the next chapter. All you need are the training “tools” that I’ve given to you in my book, Caregiver Follow Me. I wrote the book for just this reason. It is possible for you to have your own specially trained dog, trained by yourself, to become your ally in your fight against dementia, to ensure that with your dog’s help you can give quality care to your loved one at home. You, your patient and other family members will all share in the benefits.

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