Servicemen and –women seeking ways to cope with war-related stress and injuries can participate in a service dog training program to help injured veterans. The Walter Reed Wounded Warrior Service Dog Training Program, available for servicemen and -women on Naval Support Activity Bethesda and Fort Belvoir in Virginia, enables participants with PTSD or other emotional issues to help socialize and train dogs who will move on to be physical-assistance service dogs for veterans with mobility issues, like amputated limbs.
Working with the dogs in training can be mutually beneficial, providing both socialization for the dogs and companionship for the servicemen, who may isolate themselves while coping with trauma, depression, anxiety, or stress.
"We all know that through the human-animal bond there is an endocrine hormonal production going on called oxytocin which is a 'feel good' hormone," program director Col. Matthew St. Laurent said in a press release. "So training a service dog can help someone, who may be going through PTSD or depression. We know that it relaxes them and calms their nerves."
The participants will care for the animals by grooming them and teach them basic skills while monitoring their health.
"A lot of service members leave the battlefield with a feeling of so much guilt that they may develop post traumatic stress reactions," says St. Laurent. "I can tell them that I can't erase their past experiences, but maybe I can provide them some tools for living by inviting them to train a dog for a fellow vet."
There are currently 12 dogs in the program, all Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. The dogs start the program when they are 16 weeks old and complete it by the time they are two years old. After graduating, they are placed with a veteran.
Photo at top: Spc. Stephone Carmichael, checks service-dog-in-training Annie for any lumps or other potential health concerns during a training session of the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Training Program at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Aug. 25, 2015.
Note: September is National Service Dog Month. Throughout the month, we will be providing stories here on AKC.org about service dogs and the exceptional work they do.