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For some veterans struggling with the lingering wounds from their military service, they’ve found support and companionship in man’s best friend. While service dogs come in many shapes, sizes, and perform different roles depending on their handler’s needs, there is a growing number of groups training service dogs to assist military veterans.
The nonprofit, K9s For Warriors, is one such group that trains service dogs to help post-9/11 military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma. K9s For Warriors is accredited by Assistance Dogs International, a service dog standards group.
Since K9s For Warriors was founded in 2009, it’s grown from a staff of three to more than 36 employees and has helped more than 200 veterans receive service dogs. As part of the program, participants take part in a 21-day course where they live on site at the training facility in Palm Valley, Florida, and work with their service dogs six days a week, according to Brett Simon, the director of operations at K9s For Warriors.
In addition to the training each dog receives prior to meeting their veterans, they will train with their handlers for roughly 120 hours before graduation from K9s For Warriors.
Simon spoke with Task & Purpose about how their service dogs are trained; what services they provide their veteran handlers, which the nonprofit refers to as warriors; and how veterans and their service dogs build and strengthen their bond.
For the service dogs, the training begins months before they meet their veterans.
“It takes us about four to five months to get them ready, and that’s with a civilian trainer on site,” explains Simon, who adds that roughly 95% of their service dogs are rescues from shelters or come to them after an owner surrenders the animal.
Simon says they will occasionally select specific breeds for hypoallergenic reasons, like labradoodles and poodle mixes for veterans or family members who have allergies.
A handler and his service dog train together.Photo courtesy of K9s For Warriors
Additionally, the service dogs need to be under two years or younger, must weigh a minimum of 54 pounds, and be at least two feet tall to qualify for the program.
“The reason for the weight and the height is for the weight we need them to be sturdy for the guys to use them for brace,” says Simon. “They’re not putting all of their weight on them, but for enough to assit them up.”
“Brace” is one of several commands taught to the service dogs, and it allows the handlers to put some of their weight on the animal when they’re standing up.
The dogs are taught a number of commands to help their handlers deal with stress, anxiety, and limited mobility.
“We have a few dogs that have gone through the program that have been trained to retrieve items, do some other things for them that they’re not physically able to do,” says Simon. “We have one dog that’s trained to help [the veteran] pull his clothes off — he’s unable to bend over and get his socks and shoes off, so the dog would do it for him. That’s on a limited case-by-case basis.”
Simon explains that in addition to “brace,” the service dogs are taught to disrupt nightmares.
“Some of the guys sleep really heavily and have nightmares and the dogs come over and wake them up,” says Simon. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement from the surveys we do with our graduates that the night terrors are starting to dissipate. The guys who were saying they were getting two and a half hours of sleep are up to five hours of sleep a night now, so the dog has definitely benefited them being there.”
Another command is called “my lap,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
If a handler is feeling anxious or uncomfortable, he or she can call their service dog to them as a way to relieve tension and stress.
“But we do teach the command as well as a training command to come in their lap and to press against them, and the compression and also the petting reduces stress and anxiety and lowers blood pressure and things of that nature,” says Simon. “That’s one of the ways we get the dogs to do that; we ask them to come in their laps as trainers.”
As a handler and the service dog forge a stronger bond over time through training and the liberal use of treats, the dog will respond intuitively to the veteran’s needs, Simon explains.
“Once they make that bond, the dog normally starts to alert the veteran on their own that something's going on here … and they can take the focus off of whatever’s stressing them to try to reduce that anxiety,” says Simon.
Army Spc. Clayton James Horne died in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 17, making him the eighth non-combat fatality for Operation Inherent Resolve so far this year, defense officials have announced.
Horne, 23, was assigned to the 351st Military Police Company, 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Ocala, Florida, a Pentagon news release says.
The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.
Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).
It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.
What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.
U.S. media outlets have reported that a nuclear-powered cruise missile named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall likely exploded during testing. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm as much when he tweeted on Aug. 12 that the United States had gleaned useful information from "the failed missile explosion in Russia."
Top officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs declined to step in to try to exempt veterans and their families from a new immigration rule that would make it far easier to deny green cards to low-income immigrants, according to documents obtained by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Department of Defense, on the other hand, worked throughout 2018 to minimize the new policy's impact on military families.
As a result, the regulation, which goes into effect in October, applies just as strictly to veterans and their families as it does to the broader public, while active-duty members of the military and reserve forces face a relaxed version of the rule.
Watch the US fire off its first previously-banned missile since the collapse of the INF Treaty with Russia
The U.S. military conducted its first flight test of a conventional ground-launched cruise missile in a test that would have been banned prior to the recent collapse of a Cold War-era nuclear arms agreement.
The missile was launched on Sunday from a testing site on San Nicolas Island in California. "The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight," the Pentagon explained in an emailed statement, adding that "data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense's development of future intermediate-range capabilities."