In order to be a successful service dog, there are specific qualities that a canine must possess. One of the most important characteristics is confidence. Warriors rely on their dogs to get them through moments of high stress. Dogs that become fearful easily could increase a warrior’s anxiety levels instead of decreasing them. Service dogs also need to be calm. If a dog is aggressive, it can create a negative experience for the warrior while also becoming a safety liability.
K9s For Warriors provides service dogs to post-9/11 veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war.
Sometimes we hear individuals referring to our service dogs as support or therapy dogs, which is not correct. Although service, emotional support, and therapy dogs all do very important jobs, they are very different.
What is a service dog?
K9s For Warriors is not like other service dog organizations. The training is intense and program participants are required to stay on campus for 21 days. What really sets K9s apart from other organizations, however, is the very personal and family-oriented feel of the environment. Nested on nine acres of land, each portion of Camp K9 was built with the warrior’s needs and comfort in mind. The main building consists of the administration office and the warrior clubhouse. Large kitchen, dining areas, living areas, a library, and a gym make up the clubhouse.
As a service dog organization, we are in the business of providing highly-trained dogs to disabled veterans who absolutely need them. As hard as it may be to imagine, there are individuals out there who try to pass their pets off as service dogs. This is shameful and is very degrading to those who actually need a service dog to live their daily lives. The topic of fake service dogs is controversial. Although, legally, service dogs are not required to wear vests, at K9s For Warriors, we always tell our warriors to have their dogs “vested” while in public.
The training of our dogs is performed on a daily basis by an excellent group of trainers. Trainers work with our dogs in three different phases: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Dogs in the beginning phase train in basic obedience, socialization, and kennel manners. The intermediate phase introduces public access training and going out to places with trainers. They also start their task training, learning commands such as block, cover, and brace.
With only so many hours in a day, it always amazes us how our volunteers always find time to help us. They cook delicious meals for our veterans, raise puppies for our program, and tend to our kennels on campus. Some knit warm blankets for our service dogs. Others send thoughtful gift baskets for our program recipients. Together, they make up an eclectic mix of people with a variety of experiences, skills, and talents.
Because our program is based on the philosophy that veterans should be involved in their own recovery, their training is meant to put them outside their comfort zone. The days are long and challenging. Warriors train with their dogs for nearly 8 hours a day. The warrior passenger bus departs for the day around 8:30am for public access training. Lectures, training sessions, dog-grooming, and field trips are some of the key elements of this vital instruction.
When you encounter a service dog team during travel, the best thing you can do is respectfully admire them from afar. You may be tempted to pet the dog, but remember – the dog is working and should not be distracted. Keep in mind that you do not know what disability the handler may have. Distracting a service dog could cause the dog to miss a cue that his handler may be going into a medical emergency.
When our warriors are out in public with their dogs and families, so much is going through their minds. They want to enjoy their time out, but they are also focused on things they cannot control. It can sometimes be a challenge in certain places or situations to have a dog. So many things can happen, but you can help by making sure you understand the things you should not do around them.
Do Not Talk to the Dog While Ignoring the Warrior
There is one question that all puppy raisers are asked: how can you raise a puppy just to give it to someone else? It is a hypothetical question, and here is how we answer it. We don’t close our hearts off - that is impossible. We don’t claim it will be easy – it is not. One thing we certainly do, however, is just accept the experience for what it is. We know from the beginning that this isn’t about us. We are choosing to surrender to the cause. Throughout the experience, we try our very best to care for the dog without getting too involved. But, that doesn’t happen.