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The Heart of Paws for Purple Hearts

 In PPH Alaska, PPH Blog, PPH Menlo Park, PPH San Antonio, PPH San Diego, Ruther Glen, Service Dog Training, Service Dogs, Training

Program instructors are the heart of our organization. They are the ones who train our dogs. They put a whole lot of soul into training each top-notch assistance dog and providing Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® (CAWT) to our Warriors! They are a big part of our dog’s lives.  Starting from puppyhood, our dogs learn their first commands and how to behave from our caring and professional program instructors.  Our dedicated dog training team carefully sees each dog along its path to becoming a fully trained service dog to help Warriors.

Our program instructors welcome our puppies and dogs into their homes, love them as their own and teach them over 100 commands along with help from our Warriors in our CAWT programs. CAWT is a fundamental part of our mission. It makes us unique among service dog organizations. Our trainers assist Veterans and Active Duty Service Members to train and care for our service dogs. This positive interaction with our dogs, in partnership with experienced mental health professionals, reduces PTSD and TBI symptoms and helps suffering Warriors learn how to trust and connect with others as they progress along the road to recovery.

The steps to become a service dog trainer are significant, requiring years of experience and apprenticeships. However, it’s all worth it. In the end each trainer knows they are giving someone the gift of independence. Most of our program instructors are graduates of the Bergin University of Canine Studies. Bergin University was founded by the inventor of the service dog concept, and Paws for Purple Hearts CEO, Dr. Bonnie Bergin. Bergin University is the first and only program in the world that focuses on training dogs and learning about the human-canine bond. Our unique relationship with Bergin gives us unmatched, unique access to the best dog trainers, the highest quality dogs, and the latest cutting edge dog training and handling research.

Meet some of our senior program instructors at our sites across the USA who help make our work possible:


Debbie is part of our Alaska Team. She retired from a 29-year career as a Dental Hygienist, which allowed her to do full time volunteer work with her own personal dogs that she trained to be therapy dogs through NATIONAL Crisis Response Canines. Working with the dogs during real-world crises and disaster situations revealed how important dogs are in changing the lives of people during their greatest time of need.  Training service dogs was a natural next step for her.  Having a son, nephew and brother who each served in the military helped inspire her to give something to back to those who have served our country for us. She learned of Paws for Purple Hearts while at Bergin University in 2018.  She started with us when the Anchorage location opened in 2019. Her favorite commands to teach are “Snuggle” and “Lap” because they provide perfect opportunities for the dogs to show off the affectionate personalities.

My favorite thing about being a program instructor is twofold.  I really enjoy the dog training aspect, continually learning and understanding more every day. Also, I enjoy, seeing first-hand what a life changing difference a dog can make in a Warrior’s life. It makes it so worth it.

Alaska Team
The Alaska Team

Menlo Park

Tamara is a Senior Program Instructor from our Menlo Park site. She always knew she wanted to work with dogs. When she was in college studying psychology she found out about assisted animal therapy. She began her journey with Paws for Purple Hearts almost three years ago at our Alaska site and has been an incredible part of our team ever since. Her favorite commands change depending on the dog but she says “sit up” is always a crowd pleaser because the dog rears up on its haunches and stands surprisingly tall.

Lots of people wonder if our dogs ever get free time or if they are always supposed to be serious and working. Or dogs do get time off, but they actually love working! Golden Retrievers and Labradors are known for being very people-oriented and always eager to please their handler. I absolutely love working with Maggie and Liberty. They are always in tune with how our Warriors are feeling.

Menlo Park Team
The Menlo Park, California Team

Ruther Glen

Alissa is from our Ruther Glen, Virginia site. She grew up loving dogs and then attended Bergin University where she earned an Associate’s Degree. When she learned about Paws for Purple Hearts, and discovered that its mission included not only service dog training, but also canine-assisted therapy for Veterans, she decided to take the opportunity to move to Virginia to help start a facility there in 2015.  Her favorite commands are the fun ones such as “snuggle”, “bow”, “roll” and her top favorite “sit up”.

I love seeing the dogs interacting and learning with the Warriors during our therapeutic sessions, especially those that come in and are reserved and quiet at first. They usually leave with a big smile on their face, and best of all, when we place a service dog with a Warrior!

Ruther Glen Team
The Ruther Glen, Virginia Team

San Antonio

Erica started at our San Antonio site in June of 2019. She had some obedience training experience prior to becoming service dog trainer. She really enjoys the dog training aspect of the job and helping each dog reach its full potential.  Her favorite command to teach is “leave it” because it’s so easy for the dogs to catch on to the concept when presented correctly, and it’s one of those commands that is really very useful in the real world, where Warriors sometimes need to keep their dogs safe by directing them to avoid tempting hazards (e.g., bubble gum, animals that might not be friendly).

From personal experience, I believe that it is extremely difficult to build knowledge as a dog trainer because everyone has an opinion about how it should be done, and not everyone is qualified to make that assessment. I learned a lot of what not to do before I learned the right way with science-based, force-free methods. I owe my knowledge now entirely to my tenacity;  I keep asking questions and do not give up until I find someone who has the right answer.

San Antonio Team
The San Antonio, Texas Team

San Diego

Selah is the Senior Program Instructor at our San Diego site.  She has always loved animals and earned Associates and Bachelor’s Degrees from Bergin University. There she learned about service dogs and how much they positively impacted people’s lives. After she graduated she helped establish our San Diego operation. She has learned so much about dogs and training during her four years at PPH. She reports that they are constantly teaching her something new.

Working with the dogs is obviously a huge benefit of this job, but working with the Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, volunteers, and puppy parents has been truly awesome. I’ve met so many wonderful Warriors that love working with and learning about dogs. I am also extremely grateful for our fantastic group of volunteers and puppy parents. They selflessly give so much of their time to the Warriors, and really make a big difference in our ability to accomplish our mission!

San Diego Team
The San Diego, California Team

The cost to raise and train a service dog is $35,000. This includes providing the dog with food, veterinary care, equipment, and training with a professional instructor and participation in Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy®. If you would like to help sponsor one of our pup’s on its long journey to becoming a service dog, please visit our website or text purplepaws to 707070 to donate today!

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