Food Allergy Service Dogs and How They’re Trained

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Did you know that it’s possible to have a service dog specially trained for your child’s food allergen? This may be a good option to consider if your child has a severe and potentially life-threatening food allergy. Here’s more information, so you can learn about food allergy service dogs and how they’re specially trained.

The Rise of Food Allergy Service Dogs

This type of service dog is becoming more common as we see increasing rates of food allergies in children. These dogs are not only useful at home, but they can also go to school and social activities with the child to identify food allergy threats. This could be a very useful tool for children, especially when they’re eating outside the home and may not know the ingredients in various foods. An NBCNews.com report noted that owners have experienced incidents almost every day when the dog identified an allergen the child would not have otherwise noticed.

Challenges of Food Allergy Service Dogs

There are some downsides or limitations to food allergy service dogs. These dogs can sniff out allergens, yet they won’t know the presence of an allergen if the smell is not present—for example, if it’s contained in packaging. Also, they are not perfect and may sometimes miss an allergen, yet this is rare and they are highly effective at their jobs.

Another concern is that people can be allergic to dogs, so it’s important to check whether anyone in your household is allergic to dogs before going forward with getting a service dog. Because of their extensive training, these service dogs are expensive and not necessarily accessible to everyone. The cost can vary from $10,000 to $20,000.

Further, since this use of allergen-sniffing service dogs is relatively new, some people are facing challenges with businesses and schools recognizing these dogs as service animals, despite them wearing service vests like other service dogs. On the federal level, this type of service dog is recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But, using dogs for this purpose is not yet mainstream enough for everyone to understand or accept it. Some parents have been lobbying for updates to regulations on the state and local levels. Nonetheless, many schools have been accommodating of these service dogs.

How Food Allergy Service Dogs Are Trained

Training for food allergy service dogs is similar to that for police and military dogs also trained for sniffing, such as those that sniff out drugs or explosives. One training service explains that the dogs are taught with reward-based training methods to find specific allergens.

Training services choose certain dogs they identify as having potential as a detection dog. This is not necessarily about the breed of dog but about certain characteristics such as the dog’s intelligence level, motivation and behaviors, and willingness to search for certain smells.

The dog has to learn to ignore other smells while focusing on one or more that he is trained to find, such as peanuts or egg. Training companies perform a number of tests to find dogs with the right characteristics for this type of duty. These include a mix of intellectual, physical and environmental tests.

Specially trained service dogs can help children with food allergies better enjoy their childhoods by not having to worry about exposure to allergens, especially in public. As a parent, you can feel better knowing a loyal companion is looking out for your child when you’re not there. Plus, the love of a pet can improve a child’s life in a range of other ways and make your household a happier place.

Do you or anyone you know have an allergen-sniffing service dog? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Please share them with us in the comments below, as well as any questions you might have about these types of working dogs.