Israel Develops First Alzheimer’s Dog

An Israeli social worker, Daphna Golan-Shemesh and an Israeli professional dog trainer, Yariv Ben Yosef, pooled their knowledge, the result of which is a trained guide dog for early onset Alzheimer’s patients.

While sharing their expertise in their chosen fields, they decided to combine forces along with Daphna’s nurturing nature and Yariv’s energy.

Daphna was a pioneer in geriatrics when it was a new field in Israel. In 1989 she founded “House of the Sun.” It is a home for those suffering from Alzheimers disease and dementia and is located at present in Petach Tikva, Israel.

Yariv has loved animals all his life, bringing many and varied homeless or injured pets to his parent’s house as a child. After his stint in the army, Yariv became a dog trainer and opened a training center for service and therapy dogs.

Their goal is to make life easier for both the patients and their families.

The challenge they faced was finding the right dog for the job. After several unsuccessful attempts, a shorthaired collie from Finland was chosen because of “their calm nature, high intelligence, sociability, good sense of smell and good spatial sense.” Female dogs are used for their maternal instincts, willingness to make eye contact and desire to please.

An Alzheimer’s dog does not walk closely to the body as a guide dog for the blind is required to do. The most important service the Alzheimer’s dog performs is to bring the patient home on command.

Often, when Alzheimer’s patients wander into unknown areas or become upset, the dog will be a calming presence. If the patient forgets the order “home” there is an electronic device on the dog’s collar with a GPS navigation system that the family can activate and find the pair. If they are more than 50 km. from home, a special tone is activated and heard by the dog. This tone is a signal to the dog to take the patient home.

In the home, if a patient is in distress, the dog is trained to press an alarm button alerting members of the family that there is a problem.

The training of the dog took 1 1/2 years working together with the patient and family, teaching them what to do in emergency situations.

Yariv and Daphna hope to train 30 dogs annually. They are confident that Alzheimer’s dogs will be as common as guide dogs for the blind.

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