Veterans With Service Dogs Know Someone Always Has Their Back

Munger, a psychiatric service dog, "clears" the area as Joe Aguirre enters a restaurant in Fayetteville, N.C.
Associated Press photo by Allen G. Breed

When Greg Wells came home from Afghanistan in 2012, he didn’t want to leave his house.

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the pills he was on didn’t seem to help. Increasingly, he felt alone and isolated until his wife suggested he try something new.

In April 2015, Wells went to a course put on by K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit founded in 2009 that trains service dogs to help post-9/11 military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma.

Related: This Is What It Takes To Be A Warrior’s Service Dog »

Participants in the program are called warriors and 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. The training involves going to public locations — malls, beaches, parks, restaurants, and even a movie theater — with their service dogs.

The goal is to get the warriors comfortable in public and social settings, explains Wells, an Army veteran of the Iraq War who deployed from 2003 to 2004. After leaving the Army, Wells worked in law enforcement and from 2008 to 2012 as a professional contractor in Afghanistan, where he advised and trained the Afghan National Police.

Veterans taking part in the K9s for Warriors training program line up with their service dogs at a public mall in the Jacksonville, Florida area.Photo courtesy of K9s for Warriors.

Now, he is a warrior trainer and sees some of the participants facing the same struggles he did.

Wells spoke with Task & Purpose about how the veterans at K9s For Warriors build a bond with their service dogs, and how the relationship between the two can bring about a return to normalcy.

Building a bond between warrior and service dog.

“The bond is not the same kind of bond you would have with a family member or a spouse,” says Wells. “The best way I can describe it is if you ever had a dog when you were a child, it’s what you felt like when your mom or dad brought the dog home and surprised you with it. That’s pretty much the bond you have with these dogs.”

In the case of service dogs, the bond is also critical in helping those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma.

“It was just one of those things that automatically clicked,” says Wells of his service dog. “I literally had him for about four hours and I laid down to take a nap because I was exhausted, and I started having a nightmare and he woke me up. I didn’t have any knowledge of service dogs at the time, I was just trying to find another way to cope and move forward with life.”

Get outside and back in the world.

“Going out with a dog is a life-changing event once you’ve been stuck in your house for however long it is since you separated from the service,” says Wells.

The service dogs also alert their handlers when someone approaches from behind, and in stressful situations, they will comfort or distract their handlers as a way to relieve tension, explains Wells.

For some veterans dealing with feelings of isolation or loneliness, there’s also the added benefit of having a friend by their side at all times.

“Aside from the psychological, I’ve got my best friend that’s going with me no matter where I go, says Wells. “If I start to freak out, he’s going to calm me down. He’s going to notice I’m freaking out before I do, and he’s going to start smelling the pheromones and he’s gonna say, ‘Well you’re starting to act up, so I’m gonna step on your foot, I’m gonna look at you, or distract you so whatever you’re looking at, you’re gonna look at me instead.’”

However, loyalty is a two-way street.

For veterans considering a service dog, they “need to be all in,” says Wells.

“Number one thing I tell [vets] is to go into it with an open mind,” says Wells. “Honestly, not everybody is ready for a service dog. You have to be in a certain place, you’re gonna be responsible for another life and to be able to properly do that, in my opinion you need to be the person taking care of that life. You can’t just slough that off on a family member.”

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland -- The U.S. Air Force will call its new trainer the T-7A "Red Hawk."

Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan announced the name of the jet, known previously as the T-X, on Monday, alongside retired Col. Charles McGee, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.

"The name, Red Hawk, honors the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, and pays homage to their signature red-tailed aircraft from World War II," Donovan said here during the annual Air, Space and Cyber conference.

Read More Show Less

The Special Forces community is honoring the life of Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy W. Griffin, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, whom his commander described as a superlative soldier and beloved teammate.

"He was a warrior - an accomplished, respected and loved Special Forces soldier that will never be forgotten," Col. Owen G. Ray, commander of 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), said in a news release. "We ask that you keep his family and teammates in your thoughts and prayers."

Read More Show Less

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran held talks with a delegation from Afghanistan's Taliban, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, a week after peace talks between the United States and the Islamist insurgents collapsed.

Iran said in December it had been meeting with Taliban representatives with the knowledge of the Afghan government, after reports of U.S.-Taliban talks about a ceasefire and a possible withdrawal of foreign troops.

Read More Show Less
US Marine Corps

The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.

"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'

"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"

Read More Show Less