Seizure Assistance Dogs:

A Special Kind of Service Dog

Seizure assistance dogs are a specific kind of service dog trained to bark or alert an individual’s caregiver when they are having a seizure. Others may learn to lie next to the person having a seizure. Being alerted when a seizure occurs may help provide comfort and peace of mind to families and caregivers as well as those living with a seizure condition.
Children living with seizure disorders may experience physical and emotional challenges as a result of the disease.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dog in public places. Emotional assistance dogs, therapy dogs and pet dogs don’t have any special rights under the ADA.

Assistance in Action

Service dogs are rigorously trained, starting as puppies, to perform tasks and provide support for people living with a number of different health conditions.

Training Service Dogs

Training Service Dogs

While there is no standard process, training a service dog typically follows these stages:

Puppy Enrichment

Puppy enrichment

From birth, service dog puppies begin to experience the world and prepare for their job ahead.

Foundation Skills

Foundational skills and socialization

During these phases, puppies learn basic commands, spend time with people and are introduced to different environmental settings to help with socialization.

Advanced Training Dog

Advanced training

Dogs will learn service dog skills and participate in activities related to the exact needs of their partners such as tracking, medical alert, retrieval and hearing. Based on where the dog excels, it will be matched based on the specific needs of an individual; however, there is no guarantee animals will provide a benefit to every person.

Service Dogs

Hover over the dog to find out more about how service dogs are equipped to help their partners.

PAWS Service dogs use their paws to assist those in need, such as pawing to alert them of a medical problem, opening/closing doors, or operating light switches. BODY Seizure assistance dogs may learn to lie next to a person having a seizure to comfort or protect them. Or they may use their body to steady or brace their partner. MOUTH By retrieving various objects or bringing medicines or a telephone, service dogs are trained to help in many ways. VOICE Service dogs use different sounds and barks to communicate their messages. Some dogs are trained to bark or alert family members when their owner is having a seizure. NOSE Seizure assistance dogs are specially trained to alert caregivers to seizures when or even sometimes before they happen. Some reports suggest that dogs may be responding to a type of smell. Service dogs also may use their noses to get the attention of a deaf person. EYES By using their vision, service dogs can find objects and take them to their owners. Seizure assistance dogs can alert to a seizure they see happening. Some service dogs for those with vision impairment can guide their owners around obstacles. EARS Service dogs may be trained to use a dog’s sensitive hearing to alert their partner to specific sounds inside and outside the home. TAIL Service dogs are remarkably trained and intelligent aides. They are also compassionate and friendly companions. Their tails work as a signal to indicate favorable conditions and a positive environment.
TAIL Service dogs are remarkably trained and intelligent aides. They are also compassionate and friendly companions. Their tails work as a signal to indicate favorable conditions and a positive environment. EYES By using their vision, service dogs can find objects and take them to their owners. Seizure assistance dogs can alert to a seizure they see happening. Some service dogs for those with vision impairment can guide their owners around obstacles. NOSE Seizure assistance dogs are specially trained to alert caregivers to seizures when or even sometimes before they happen. Some reports suggest that dogs may be responding to a type of smell. Service dogs also may use their noses to get the attention of a deaf person. VOICE Service dogs use different sounds and barks to communicate their messages. Some dogs are trained to bark or alert family members when their owner is having a seizure. PAWS Service dogs use their paws to assist those in need, such as pawing to alert them of a medical problem, opening/closing doors, or operating light switches. MOUTH By retrieving various objects or bringing medicines or a telephone, service dogs are trained to help in many ways. EARS Service dogs may be trained to use a dog’s sensitive hearing to alert their partner to specific sounds inside and outside the home. BODY Seizure assistance dogs may learn to lie next to a person having a seizure to comfort or protect them. Or they may use their body to steady or brace their partner. EARS MOUTH

Patient Stories

Hear from three families who received a seizure assistance dog from 4 Paws for Ability. The goal of Magnolia Paws for Compassion is to help raise awareness of the many benefits that interaction with animals can provide to those coping with illness; however, we recognize there is no guarantee animals will provide a benefit to every child living with seizures.

Layla & Harry Layla & Harry

Layla & Harry

Layla Runnels was diagnosed with autism at age two and a seizure disorder at age three. Read the heartfelt letter from her mom, Larena, about the impact her service dog has had on their lives.

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COLE Jackson, Janey & Hoop-De-Do

Jackson, Janey & Hoop-De-Doo

Jackson Schnur was diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), a severe form of child-onset epilepsy when he was three years old. Learn how his two seizure assistance dogs have brought peace of mind to his family.

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Hannah & Yuki Hannah & Yuki

Hannah & Yuki

Hannah Kirchofer was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a rare, catastrophic form of epilepsy at age 11. Her mom, Marcia, shares how two service dogs - Blitzen and Yuki - supported their family.

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A Comforting Paw A Comforting Paw

A Comforting Paw

Therapy dogs can lend a comforting paw to those in need of psychological or physiological therapy.

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A message from Larena Runnels
Becky & Thule

My name is Larena Runnels and I live in Elizabethtown, KY with my husband and our three beautiful children. My middle child, Layla, has autism, chronic migraines, and a history of seizures.

Layla was diagnosed with autism at age two, and at age three, she began having seizures. Handling seizures is already complicated; however, Layla’s autism made this even more challenging. Layla struggles to verbalize and communicate and her seizures are typically silent, characterized by tenseness and mild shaking. If you’re not looking at her, you wouldn’t know she’s having one. That is especially terrifying as a parent – I felt like I needed to be there, with my eyes on her all the time, to keep her safe. Otherwise, she could have a dangerous seizure and I’d never know. Nighttime was especially scary – I could never sleep well for fear that she’d have a seizure in her sleep.

We reached out to 4 Paws for Ability in search of a seizure assistance dog. Thanks to our incredible community’s fundraising efforts along with the generous support of Eisai through their Magnolia Paws for Compassion program, we were able to bring Harry Hay (known as Harry), our seizure assistance dog, home in September 2021.

Thanks to 4 Paws for Ability, our family is now not only complete, but more at peace with our situation. We are all more confident and secure (and able to sleep at night!), knowing that Harry will alert if Layla has a seizure. Harry can also detect if Layla has a migraine, something she has difficulty communicating to us, allowing our family to better treat and support her.

In addition to seizure support, one of Harry’s greatest abilities is that he provides behavioral disruption and redirection related to Layla’s autism. He nuzzles Layla and applies deep tissue pressure to her legs with his body. Further, if Layla wanders or gets lost (often typical of autistic children), Harry is an amazing tracker – he can track and find her outside of the home or inside of a store.

4 Paws for Ability has provided us with one of our life's greatest gifts while simultaneously supporting us and offering us resources and people to reach out to. Those of us with service dogs from 4 Paws for Ability call the special bond between a child and their service animal the “4 Paws Magic” – and seeing the bond between Layla and Harry is proof that the 4 Paws Magic is real and stronger than I ever thought it could be.

Two 4-Pawed Additions to the Schnur Family
Jackson, Janey & Hoop-De-Do

At 14 months old, Jackson Schnur was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms and then at 3 years old with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), a severe form of child-onset epilepsy that causes daily seizures and global development delays. They learned about 4 Paws for Ability at the Epilepsy Foundation’s National Walk for Epilepsy in 2015.

In 2018, Janey, a Golden Retriever Lab and a seizure assistance dog, joined the family and has been a wonderful addition for both Jackson and his family. 

In November 2019, the Schnurs spotted a growth on Janey, and later learned that it was a malignant tumor. Unsure what to do, they reached back out to 4 Paws for Ability who immediately recommended they get another service dog in case Janey became too ill to perform her duties. In March 2020, the family welcomed Hoop-De-Doo (Hoops) into their home. 

While they expected Hoops to take over Jackson’s support, Janey has been dedicated to continuing to work despite her illness, and was re-certified as a service dog in June 2020. Hoops has different skills than Janey, such as the ability to pre-alert the family of an oncoming seizure by licking Jackson, or the ability to press the “open” button for handicap-accessible doors. Janey has been trained on behavior disruption, so that when given a verbal command, Janey will give Jackson “kisses” or jump up on his lap. They are also very good at tracking and have memorized Jackson’s scent so if he were to leave the house or be on his own for any reason, they would be able to use their keen sense of smell to track him down.

The dogs enjoy playing together as well, and thanks to 4 Paws for Ability, the Schnurs are appreciative and happy knowing that they have two service animals supporting Jackson and the rest of their family.

A message from Marcia Kirchhofer
Hannah & Yuki

My name is Marcia Kirchhofer and I live in Brookville, Ohio with my husband and our three kids. Hannah, my oldest child has been experiencing seizures almost every day of her life. At age 11, she was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a rare, catastrophic form of epilepsy. Hannah has also been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), so she also struggles with mobility and has to use a walker to get around.

When Hannah was nine years old, my husband had recently been deployed to Iraq and I was taking care of her, along with her two younger brothers, completely on my own. I had seen a 4 Paws for Ability service dog while at the hospital with Hannah and decided to do some research to see if a service dog would be right for her condition. 4 Paws for Ability stood out to me as one of the top agencies for placement of service animals, so I decided to start the fundraising process right away. After that, we received Blitzen, her first seizure assistance dog.

Our life changed soon after Blitzen came along. I no longer had to sleep in the same bed as Hannah or keep a constant eye on her throughout the night, as I was learning to trust that Blitzen could alert me to her seizures. Blitzen accompanied Hannah to school starting in the third grade and quickly helped Hannah to better socialize with her peers, improving her communication skills and ability to interact with others. Blitzen remained Hannah’s best friend and service dog through 12th grade, at which time we had to retire him. Blitzen recently crossed the rainbow bridge, but spent several years as a family dog, enjoying his old age with all of us by his side.

In January 2019, Hannah received a new service dog, also from 4 Paws, named Yuki. To meet Hannah’s evolving needs, Yuki is specifically trained in seizure alerting, mobility, behavior disruption and retrieval. Yuki and Hannah quickly formed an amazing bond like the one Hannah had with Blitzen. Yuki helps provide Hannah with the freedom to not have to be with an adult at all times. Yuki can also help Hannah balance and get around better, pick up things and open doors. Hannah and Yuki both love to swim and Yuki joins Hannah at the local YMCA for her swimming lessons. This summer, they’re looking forward to swimming outside together! One of my sweetest memories is when Hannah went to our church prom – Yuki dressed up for the occasion and wore a tutu to accompany her.

As Hannah explores employment opportunities, Yuki will be with her to ensure she can maintain a level of independence that would not be possible without the help of a service dog. I have seen firsthand – through both Blitzen and Yuki – how life-changing a service dog can be not only for a child with epilepsy but for the entire family. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have Blitzen and Yuki, and for the unconditional love they have provided to Hannah.