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Blog Feature

By: Brendan Duffy on October 22nd, 2015

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Treating Sleep Disorders with Service Dogs

Sleep Technologist Advice

Treating Sleep Disorders with Service Dogs

[Image Credit: Pawsitivity | http://www.pawsitivityservicedogs.com/

Service dogs can help treat sleep disorders

No, I don’t mean that the valid insurance authorizations are becoming a nightmare to secure-or the fact that running Home Sleep Apnea Tests is becoming more of our daily norm.

I am referring to the use of therapy service dogs, our four legged friends, as an aide for various sleep disorders.

Recently I encountered a service dog that works with their patient/master to alert them to an asthma trigger. The dog has even been trained to fetch any necessary treatment meds needed.

I was wondering after that chance meeting if dogs were being trained for our sleep disorders patients. In an effort to learn more, I went online and searched the term “service dogs and sleep disorders” and I have read a few articles lately that mention the use of trained SA (service aide) dogs to assist patients with several types of sleep disorders.

How are we treating sleep disorders with service dogs?  

I recently read one interesting article by Mary W Rose PsyD published in Sleep Review magazine in July/Aug 2015. This article explains how the dogs are assisting patients with several sleep disorders.

These include:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)/Parasomnias

  • One patient in Houston is reportedly assisted with a light paw nudge from her small dog whenever she pulls off her PAP mask in her sleep.  Maybe the dog is annoyed by the leak! Dogs also can redirect a patient back to bed should they wander in their sleep. This helps prevent falls at night or people leaving the premises in their sleep.


  • There are stories about dogs being trained to sense an attack of cataplexy several moments before the incident. These SA dogs are being taught to stand in front of the patient /owner to break a possible fall onto a hard surface, or even to call 911 from specially designed phones. In other cases they can retrieve medications in time to avert an attack or episode from even happening. The article cited at least two agencies that have trained numerous dogs to assist narcolepsy patients. One is Service Dog Academy in West Seattle and the other is PAWS Training Center in four locations.

So… a couple of thoughts here

Who is training these dogs and should they consult with the sleep medicine professionals as they “credential’ these service aide dogs? Perhaps by joining forces we can make for a better service dog. What other behaviors do you think dogs could be trained for in assisting a sleep disorders patient? Should there be a central registry to document these Service Aide dogs?

Perhaps we can assist the dog trainers to look for other behaviors that a dog can be trained to react to. Also, we should remember to think about service dogs when we mention compliance and safety options to our sleep disorders patients that may have already tried so many other options without success. We already have seen several reports of how veterans and trauma victims have responded positively to dogs in the management of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One might surmise then that these dogs then will also enable these PTSD patients to achieve better sleep.

The service dog is a great addition to the arsenal a sleep professional should suggest. This is especially beneficial if it can replace a pharmacological solution for the patient! Unlike medications that may need to be taken all the time to prevent incidents, a dog can alert based on cues prior to an actual incident or event.

So after almost 20 years I learned something new about treating sleep disorders; the use of Service Dogs!

I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Want to learn more about sleep disorders every technologist should know about? Read here to how you can warn your patients for signs that they have sleep disorders. 


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