What does a seizure assistance dog do?
At 4 Paws for Ability we train service dogs to recognize the scent changes related to when a child is having a seizure. The dog is placed as part of a Three Unit Team where the dog alerts the parent by barking, and the parent responds to the seizure and assists the child. For 4 Paws to provide the training, a child should be having a minimum of 3-4 seizures each month. 4 Paws has a high success rate in the seizure assistance dog responding to the seizure either during the seizure, or at times, even before!
Note: Dogs have amazing noses, but because the alert is based on many factors beyond giving the dog a command (ie proximity to the child, frequency of seizures, a dogs ability to independently respond to a context without handler direction, etc) this means that an alert cannot be guaranteed. 4 Paws will support families receiving this skill to the best of our ability.
4 Paws service dogs are trained case specifically for each child, and the following are additional tasks that might be beneficial to a child experiencing seizures.
Some children have balance needs as a result of the seizure and/or medication side effects. 4 Paws is able to train the service dog to provide balance support as part of the Three Unit Team. This means that the parent is holding on to the primary leash, the service dog is wearing a harness and the child can hold on to the handle of the harness. This skill is primarily used in public, because the dog is wearing their equipment and is not for the child to independently use in the home or in public. If a child were to fall down as a result of the seizure, the service dog is not able to “catch” the child as the dog would not know what direction the child were to fall. Instead, our goal is that the dog provides an alert by barking in this instance to notify a parent to respond.
If the child is struggling behaviorally or emotionally, a service dog can be a great tool to provide task trained calming, comforting and redirecting support. 4 Paws uses the term Behavior Disruption for these tasks which include the dog nuzzling the child, laying their paw on the child, resting their head in the child’s lap, etc. Many children find this a comfort after a seizure as well as during medical appointments.
Other Possible Benefits
There are many possible benefits that a child may experience when partnered with a seizure assistance dog. The dog often becomes a best friend and companion to the child, provides comfort at night by sleeping in the child’s room, and creates a social bridge between the child and other people when out in public. A dog can also enhance self esteem through the responsibility of caring for the dog. Some families even report that the child experiences a decrease in seizure that may have been triggered by anxiety producing circumstances.
Common Questions and Answers
Do you only place seizure assistance dogs with children?
This is correct. 4 Paws For Ability places Seizure Assistance Dogs with young children who have any form of epilepsy or other condition causing seizures. While we will work with teens and adults who still live at home and, for all intents and purposes due to intellectual and cognitive delay will never function independently, we do not work with teens and adults who are able to function at typical age level and independently
How are the dogs trained?
Families send in scent articles that the child was wearing during the seizure and the 4 Paws trainers use the articles to teach the dog to recognize the scent. For 4 Paws to provide this training a child would be having a minimum of 3-4 seizures each month in the 6 months prior to the placement training class
My child is having frequent seizures now, but what if we achieve better seizure control by the time the dog is in advanced training?
If a child is still having some seizures during advanced training, which is during the 6 months before your placement training class, then the trainers will do the best job that they can with the articles that they receive. Some families may ask other 4 Paws families to send in seizure scent articles on their behalf. If a child is not having any seizures, that is great news! However for the training, it does mean that the service dog will not be able to learn this task. A family could choose to wait to see if the seizures increase in frequency and then go into the placement class schedule at that point. Or, if there are other needs that the child has, then the focus of the dog’s training can move to those things. If the child starts to have seizures again after the service dog has been placed, then the service dog can return to 4 Paws to see if that is a task that the service dog could learn.
What does a Three Unit Team mean?
A Three Unit Team means that a parent is able to handle the service dog on behalf of the child and this is the way in which we are able to place service dogs with young children and/or individuals who have been impacted cognitively and would need adult support
Is it always a parent that is the handler for the Three Unit Team?
A parent is commonly the handler, however it can be anyone who has received the training necessary to handle the service dog. For example, at school it could be a one on one aid.
Team Zodiac and Bella
“2 years ago Bella got to meet her new best friend, confidant, secret keeper, and most importantly her lifesaver. We can’t thank the volunteers and staff enough for being a part of training Zodiac to be the best service dog for Bella. We are so humbled by the sacrifice you all made by helping raise him knowing that you would have to give him back and watch him go to someone else and change their life. Just know your boy is not only bringing a smile to Bella’s face everyday with the funny things he does, but also that he has saved her life so many times in the last 2 years. So thank you for being a part of the reason why Bella is still here.”