Creating a Strong Service Dog Team
We take several steps to ensure the success of our service dog, specialist therapy, and facility dog teams. We meticulously match our graduating dogs with clients based on a few important characteristics. First, we make sure the dog’s skill set is a match for the needs of the Warrior (Veteran or Active Duty Service Member) client. For example, some dogs are excel at retrieving items, while others are more skilled at tasks that reduce the symptoms of PTSD, and others thrive doing specialist therapy and facility dog work, interacting with and comforting a variety of people. Next, we consider the lifestyle of the client, which includes the home environment, other pets, and daily routine, to find the dog match that is most compatible. Finally, we look at the social style of both the dog and client and match clients with dogs whose social style would make a strong match.
When we have a dog ready to graduate, we invite the Warrior to a two-week team training at the PPH site closest to the Warrior. Warriors can be matched with any dog in our program and, if necessary, we transport the Warrior’s dog to its team training site. These two weeks are a challenging, but magical time, when Warrior and dog go from being strangers to a strong and loyal team.
Our team training curriculum is based on the curriculum developed by our CEO Dr. Bonnie Bergin and the Bergin University of Canine Studies. It is a combination of lectures related to dog training, care, and behavior, as well as hands-on dog training sessions and public access “field trips.” Warriors learn over 100 commands to speak their new teammate’s language and learn skills to effectively handle their dog at home and in public. The Warrior/dog teams practice the skills they learn in training sessions on “field trips” to places where the Warrior may utilize the service dog, such as grocery stores, movie theatres, and public transportation. With the support of our caring and expert Program Instructors, the Warrior learns when and how to effectively utilize the tasks the dog knows in a variety of settings.
During team training the dog and Warrior are “umbilical corded,” which means they are attached at the leash. The Warrior is the only person with whom the dog will interact during this time, and the dog is the only animal with whom the Warrior will interact. We have found that this experience accelerates the bond between the Warrior and service dog.
At the culmination of the team training, the Warrior and dog undergo a few final evaluations, and if they successfully pass, they graduate as a team at a graduation ceremony. After that, they start their lives as a working team!
Team Training and graduation are just the beginning of the team’s relationship with Paws for Purple Hearts. We follow-up regularly in writing, phone, video, and in-person with each team to ensure the relationship remains strong and the dog continues to perform the necessary tasks to assist the Warrior.
Facility and Specialist Therapy dog clients also go through a team training together. The curriculum is very similar except that the team training is condensed to fewer days, topics specific to facility and specialist therapy dog work are included, and instead of going on public access “field trips,” the client spends time working with the dog in his/her facility under the supervision of our Program Instructors.