PTSD Service Dog Program
We train service dogs for veterans with post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries or military sexual trauma. Our program has been designed to lead the industry in ethical breeding standards, as well as the training of both dogs and the veterans who will incorporate them into their lives. And we do it all at no cost to the veterans.
Our nation was formed on a single day, July 4th 1776. And while we’re all grateful for what the Founding Fathers accomplished, we often fail to fully appreciate and care for the men, women, and even animals who have served and sacrificed every one of the 89,000+ days since the beginning, so that we can all enjoy our freedom. The physical and mental trauma that many return with can be profound, making it difficult to readjust to the life they left behind to protect the country. Many suffer social withdrawal, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and most devastatingly, commit suicide.
At Operation Therapy, we use every one of our days to honor these brave men and women. And we do this by helping them form a strong, loving bond with a highly trained canine partner that helps reduce or even eliminate the emotional triggers that are the sources of their post traumatic stress. Through this bond forged of mutual reliance, respect, and even love, both the soldier and his canine companion thrive in ways neither would on their own.
Our Founding Fathers gave us our first day of freedom.
Our veterans have given us every day since.
Plans for the New Facility
The Operation Therapy ranch in Montana has been planned to be the ideal facility for training both animals and veterans. Every inch of each building has a purpose. This facility is not only the new standard in training efficiency, but also maximizes the quality of our results.
The veteran center is the main building. Here the veterans stay when receiving their dog. It is the center of our campus. The other two large structures are training facilities for both dogs and horses. The multipurpose buildings can not only be used for animal training, but also for community events and fundraisers for the charity.
The primary breed used in our program is the Portuguese Podengo. The majority of our dogs will stand between 20″ and 24″ at the highest part of its shoulder, similar to the Labrador Retriever used in leader dog training for the blind.
The therapeutic benefits of PTSD dogs are similar to that of other service animals, but the actual physical services they provide can be quite different. Veterans suffering from PTSD benefit most when they know their service animal “has their six” and will protect them the way a fellow soldier would.
With roots going all the way back to ancient Egypt, Podengos are the perfect dogs for this task. They have served as working dogs, warriors, hunters, and companions for thousands of years. And because they’re highly trainable, require little maintenance, and have few health problems, they are the perfect dog to partner with a veteran already overwhelmed by his life alone.
In order to ensure ideal temperament, health, and longevity of our dogs, we track several generations of their lineage and only choose the best of the best for our program. These breeding dogs spend most of their time in the homes of our affiliated volunteers and enjoy a privileged life in comfortable homes with loving families. They also receive top quality care from our team of veterinarians, dietitians, groomers, and trainers.
When it is time for the dogs to breed, whelp (the dog term for giving birth), and attend to their puppies, they’re returned to our campus for round the clock care of both the mothers and their puppies.
The First 12 Weeks - Life Shaping
Science has shown that the first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life is the most crucial and effective time for shaping the rest of its life and setting it up for success. At the right time and with the right techniques, 2 days of training during this time can yield the same results as 2 months of training when the dog is a year old. Many of the problem behaviors dogs that require months for a trainer to correct later can be avoided if handled properly during these first 12 weeks, and with greater ease than in the following 12 months.
The basis for our PTSD Service Dog training program is a customized version of Puppy Culture by Jane Lindquist, whose method is the most science based and tested puppy raising program available today. We make our own minor adjustments as necessary for our training, all the while continuing to seek out and evaluate new training techniques and programs. Starting with healthy dogs that have a great temperament, then giving them the best training techniques as the correct time in their development gives us the best chance at raising a successful service animal.
The Next 12 Months - Basic Training
Once the puppies have completed our 12 week puppy program they will go to live in the loving home of one of our puppy raisers, who are all carefully selected volunteers who meet our strict requirements for housing and caring for dogs. Our detailed screening process ensures the best fit for both the puppy raiser and puppies.
During this time we have a daily, weekly and monthly schedule of ongoing training, with a new agenda beginning every two weeks. This may only involve reviews of previously learned behaviors, but often will incorporate a new behavior or enhance something the puppy has already learned. As an organization, we spend most of our time training the humans, rather than the puppies, by teaching them the new training protocol, along with tips and tricks to use in case the puppy doesn’t get it right away. If the raiser gets stuck on any part of training, they can bring the puppy back to the ranch for advanced problem solving with a more experienced staff trainer.
The foundation of the training is structured walks and crate training for each puppy. Throughout the year we have several field trips planned with advanced socialization training in stores, restaurants, shopping malls, airports, sporting events, hospitals, and other places a service dog may go to once they’re living with their veteran. Crate training can eventually be phased out at the option of the veteran but the structured walk is a core element of the veteran/dog relationship for the entirety of the dog’s career in service.
At 14 months of age the dogs receive an evaluation where they are deemed ready for advanced training, in need of additional basic training, or not suited for service. If not suited for service, we find a loving home where we are sure they are cared for and live a long, healthy, and happy life. If additional basic training is needed we have the puppy raiser work directly with one of our professional dog trainers to prepare the dog for advanced training. Once the puppy is ready for advanced training, we pair the dog with one of our staff trainers for 6 weeks of expert level behavioral shaping.
Advanced training involves combining some of the behaviors the puppy has already learned into more advanced levels, along with a lot of repetition of the skills most needed to be performed in service of a veteran. In essence, this is a daily dress rehearsal, as if they are already living with their veteran, so that we can identify any weaknesses and adjust the dog’s training accordingly.
At the end of the advanced training the dogs are evaluated and the best are recommended for graduation to become service dogs.
28 Day Veteran Program
Our 28-day veteran training program begins with 2 weeks of video training for the veteran before they come to our campus to meet the dogs. During this time they learn all of the basics and we make clear the magnitude of the responsibility they are undertaking by bringing a service dog into their lives. We also assure them of our lifelong commitment to support them and their dog.
Then the veteran comes to our campus for an additional 2 weeks training, along with a group of other veterans, all of whom go through a basic orientation and meet the dogs. Based on initial encounters, our staff then matches the dogs with the veterans. Once paired they will live together for the entire 2 week period and go through dozens of real-life situations together. Sometimes this occurs with the group, other times off campus with only one of our trainers for assistance. By the end of this two week, full dress rehearsal, the dogs and veterans are a team ready for a happy life together.
Graduation is both a happy and sad day that begins with the puppy raisers being reunited with the dogs they raised for a year, as well as the veterans who will be leaving with them.This special ceremony starts with recognition for the puppy raisers. Because they did their jobs well, a veteran’s life will be changed forever.
Then each dog in its service vest stands at attention next to the veteran they will spend the rest of their lives with as their names are announced as graduates. From that moment on, the dogs are fully credited PTSD Service Dogs for their veterans, who themselves become fully credited handlers for their animal.
The veterans and their service dogs are now one unit and have each other’s back for the rest of their long, happy, life together.