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A part of the family - PTSD service dogs

  • Published

Scott Air Force Base, Ill. -- The opportunity to be chosen to receive a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) service dog is a transformational event that extends into every area of a veterans life. Because of this momentous change, it’s crucial that each veteran is teamed with a dog that best suits that veteran’s capability, lifestyle, mobility, personality and psychological needs. 

For retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Heather Braundmeier, her dog Gwenny is her life boat, her partner and a part of her family. Braundmeier received her PTSD Service Dog, Gwenny from a local Maryville organization, Got Your Six PTSD Service Dogs where she was chosen as one of ten veterans out of thousands of applicants.

In order to be considered for a PTSD Service Dog:

  • You have served in any of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces from any era, and have received an honorable discharge
  • You are a first responder
  • You have a PTSD diagnosis while serving
  • You can participate in our two-week training program and will be committed to our training program and schedule
  • You are dedicated to maintaining the dog’s training throughout the life of the team and can provide for the well-being of the dog
  • You are able to meet the physical and emotional needs of a dog, and have an appropriate support system in place to do so if/when you are unable to yourself

Once the certified America’s VetDogs training team understands the needs of a veteran, they will build upon foundation tasks and introduce advanced tasks that will specifically help mitigate the veteran’s needs. These tasks can provide a calming effect and sense of security for its handler.

Once a veteran is chosen to receive a PTSD Service Dog they must attend a fifteen day class. During the first week of class, veterans are introduced to basic obedience and commands, ways to motivate and reward their dogs and service dog handling techniques in preparation for receiving their new PTSD Service Dog. On day two the veterans meet their assigned PTSD Service Dog and begin creating a connection that is truly indescribable. The veterans will also receive equipment and learn how to respond to dog behavior for the remainder of the week, as they work on the fundamentals of communicating and working with their new partner in various environments. Training includes basic and advanced obedience, primary and secondary motivators, discussions on dog care, etiquette, canine communication, learning theory and more. 

As the class carries over into week two, veterans will gain confidence in leading their dog through advanced handling techniques. They will have a clear understanding of how to read their dog and anticipate their dog’s reaction to environmental changes, use of appropriate equipment to become the most effective handler and understand how to motivate and reward their dog throughout the working day. Students will also learn how to work with their dogs in various settings that include residential and country environments; outings to malls, grocery stores and other stores, transportation venues including overland rail, train platforms, airports and other types of real-world situations.

Prior to the completion of class, each new veteran and dog team will have to pass the Assistance Dog International Public Access Test. The test is to determine if the dog is safe to be in public and that the handler demonstrates that he/she has control of the dog at all times.

Upon completion of training, the newly created veteran and PTSD Service Dog team will have begun to master all of the techniques they need to be successful. Including utilizing dog positioning to extend personal space, performing nightmare interruption, having the dog summon assistance, and to being comfortable in new and different situations by utilizing their dog for calming. Each veteran will be required to have their dog recertified one year after program completion, then every two years after. 

Service dogs unlike Therapy Dogs are not to be distracted and or pet by anyone except their assigned veteran when wearing their work vest. They are truly “at work” when the vest is on. Like any other dog when the vest is off it is their time to be a dog and play, receive loving from others etc. Will barking occasionally occur in the work vest yes, they are not robots and will have natural tendencies when startled or feel threatened. PTSD Service Dogs are truly lifesaving to their veterans and their value to help their veteran live a productive normal life is immeasurable.

Mrs. Braundmeier stated that Gwenny is her life boat, her partner and most definitely a part of her family. A family that without a PTSD Service Dog would look much different in functionality and stability.

"I cannot thank Got Your Six Service Dogs enough for giving me back a fully functioning life," said Braundmeier.