The US Department of Veteran Affairs says Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”
Fortunately, This Able Veteran is doing something to assist qualified veterans suffering from PTSD with highly trained service dogs.
In this post, we will identify what makes a This Able Veteran service dog so remarkable and unique and how they help veterans suffering with PTSD by the tasks they’ve been trained to perform.
What Makes TAV Dogs Special?
Behesha Doan, founder and Program Director of This Able Veteran, is a certified dog trainer and a certified service dog trainer through the International Association of Canine Professionals, and her training career spans nearly 40 years. Doan explains what makes TAV dogs so special.
“One of the things that makes TAV service dogs so remarkable is our puppy selection process of the service dog candidates. Given the importance of the tasks these dogs will need to perform, we start with puppies that come from a genetic and temperamental history of proven service dog stock. That means the mother and father have produced puppies whose temperaments are consistent with the kind of work they will need to do as adult working dogs.” said Doan.
This Able Veteran typically takes pups in at eight weeks of age and their training begins at that time. It takes between 16-18 months from start to finish.
“One of most important things is that our new puppies must learn how to learn. We accomplish this in our 8 week old pups by teaching interactive games using positive reinforcement and play. When done effectively, our training system creates a highly motivated, focused, engaged young dog that loves to learn new things. When this system of communication is built and cemented in the months that follow, we can teach the dogs new things for the rest of its life. Because dogs also have genetic motivations, breed specific tendencies, social and interactive needs, food motivations, and varying capacities to sustain mental focus, we make sure we expand the dogs’ capacities as far as possible while loving their work every hour of every day of their lives.” said Doan.
Doan says that This Able Veteran dog trainers have learned directly from her how to develop and instill a clear understanding of how to do tasks that have dozens of layers required for understanding and reliable performance under high distraction levels or to awaken out of a dead sleep and still accomplish the task(s). She explains that nightmare interruption is a good example of a multi-layer process.
“The dogs must have genetic, temperamental and trained responses to remain completely calm and peaceful when a veteran might be at work, in a classroom, or in a meeting. In the same instant, they also must recognize, react and alert the veteran when the veteran shows even the most subtle signs of rising anxiety which could be a jaw clench, a stiffening of the body, wringing of the hands or respiration changes. The dog is trained to move from calm inactivity to highly focused in a matter of two or three seconds.” she said.
“That is a razor thin line for a dog to do that especially when the dog is being petted or talked to by others or in crowds or stadiums. TAV dogs also must be non-reactive to loud/strange sounds, abrupt movements, uninvited touch, and stressful environments. They must become neutral to all those things.” Behesha stated.
Reflecting on the goal of placing a TAV service dog in a veteran’s life, Doan states “It is a powerful thing to hear our veterans tell us how much more peace, freedom, and independence they experience on an increasing basis from year to year. As the veteran practices what he/she learned in our Trauma Resilience Program, and the dog practices it’s trained skillsets, the result is a more and more empowered life, deeper attunement between the dog/handler pair, and better quality of life for their families and friends as well.
And it all starts with those special TAV dogs.
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