Labrador Ruby is showing the qualities needed to be a seizure alert dog

At first glance, the light-hearted BBC detective series Death in Paradise doesn’t appear to have any connection to the deadly serious business of training seizure alert dogs for people with epilepsy.

In fact, it’s proving to be an important indicator in assessing the suitability of trainee pup Ruby for a career as a life-changing seizure alert dog, able to offer a 100 per cent guaranteed advance warning of an oncoming seizure.

Chocolate Labrador Ruby – only 12 months old but already earmarked for the seizure alert programme - can be relied upon to settle herself down for the night when the theme tune to the programme starts up at the end of the show.

“We watch the programme as a family and she intuitively picks up when the theme tune comes up at the end of the programme that it indicates her bed time,” explains Ruby’s puppy socialiser Martin Dunn, who with wife Sue and daughter Jess (pictured left) has been looking after the bonny brown Labrador for the past ten months throughout lockdown.

 Although she is still a puppy and yet to start her formal training to become a seizure alert dog, Ruby is also picking up other cues - for example she responds to the cooker beeping and the Dunn family laying the table for tea by going into her crate.

 “This kind of intuitive behaviour; understanding routines and patterns of behaviour and making connections is really important in a future seizure alert dog,” explains senior puppy coordinator Natalie Wroe.

 “It’s like when you put your coat on the dog knows it’s time for a walk because of the repetition of the action they make an association. Ruby is only a youngster, but she has picked this up early. She is very clever, highly intelligent dog.”

 An ability to make those connections is just one of many qualities required of a successful seizure alert dog. Intuition is another. A seizure alert dog must have a natural instinct to be in tune with people and emotions, able to adapt their behaviour if their client is feeling down or unwell, and to offer comfort.

 It goes without saying that they have to be people orientated. “Ideal seizure alert dogs should enjoy being with and having human companionship,” adds Natalie, “For example, when you are pottering around the house, they follow you around, if you sit on a sofa they come and settle at your feet – they enjoy contact and being with people.

Fortunately, Ruby has many of these qualities, plus she is highly trainable, a quick learner, and always eager to learn new tasks and challenges.

 So, what awaits Ruby, when she leaves the Dunns and starts at the training centre Sheffield later this year? The pup will live with local foster carers and be able to relax and have fun at weekends and evenings. During the day she will be put through a general training programme that all support dogs undergo.

Because she has been highlighted as showing good potential for the seizure alert programme, the training team will look to match her to a suitable client with epilepsy, and then train her towards that individual’s lifestyle and needs.

Once matched, and when she has passed all her basic training, Ruby will spend two weeks with an instructor. This will be followed by the most intensive time of all - a three-week period of training with her new client and instructor at the centre, in which Ruby will be tailor-trained to detect the client’s seizures.

This is when the final quality required of a seizure alert dog is required – to be motivated by food!  This is important in all assistance dogs as Support Dogs’ trainers use a reward-based system of training, but it is particularly vital in seizure alert dogs,

Explains Natalie: “We really want to make the seizure alert training really positive for them. It can be quite a daunting thing for the dog to experience if they have no understanding of what’s happening to their human companion when they have a seizure. They have to see a seizure as a positive experience and be rewarded by high value food.”

Happily, like most Labradors, being motivated by food is something that comes naturally to Ruby.

For the next six months and possibly longer, Ruby and her client will continue training at home, with lots of support from their instructor.  By the end of that time Ruby will be expected to give a 100 per cent guaranteed warning of an oncoming epileptic seizure up to one hour in advance. Once that’s established, she and her client will qualify as a seizure alert partnership.

And thanks to Ruby, her human will be able to enjoy a considerably more independent lifestyle and a vastly improved quality of life.

 To find out about the application criteria and how to apply for the seizure alert programme go to our website: