An update from training with Wounded Warrior, Joseph, and his SDIT, Viva, who he adopted from In Dog We Trust, rescued by Ms. Cherry Jenkins. Joseph has been in the Air Force for 5 years, but due to several very difficult deployments, has decided to Med-Board out while still serving due to extreme PTSD and shoulder and back injuries. Joseph and Viva have an extremely close bond, and every time Joseph gets nervous (i.e. the minute he steps out his front door), he spends completely focused time on Viva to help calm him and reorient him. Viva also wakes Joseph from his night terrors, which happen approximately 4 times per night during the 4 hours of sleep he gets! This last session, Joseph begrudgingly but with a smile, let me take Viva and him to Petsmart – our first time. Joseph is very hyper-vigilant in parking lots, and I noticed him looking cautiously all around him even walking to his truck, which was parked a good walk away. BUT, Viva already has the front, back, and side covers down naturally, and she is, by nature of her breed, very alert, so I kept explaining to Joseph that he can let down his guard a little – Viva’s on the lookout for him – which she was, everywhere she went. It was very easy to see this behavior in both of them both outside of and inside the store.
Joseph and Viva have the “wait” command down perfectly, so Viva will not enter or exit a building until Joseph says it is ok! Joseph took a deep breath, spent some time talking to and hugging Viva, and they did absolutely perfect controlled loads and unloads into the vehicle, and finally into Petsmart. We got a cart, and the place was quite crowded, which is good for training. We had a long list of things for Joseph to get, so we took our time going up and down aisles with Viva in a perfect heel at all times. Her head would constantly turn inward to do a natural “watch me” with Joseph to ‘check in’, then her head would turn while staying in a heel to keep an eye out on the surroundings. It was very obvious that Viva is extremely in tune with Joseph’s anxiety (he was beet red and sweating a bit during our time there, but was such a trooper and kept on going!) We got all the items we needed, and when Joseph started to feel overwhelmed, he got down and played with Viva.
Next, I asked him if he was ready to do just ONE meet and greet. He took a deep breath, and said that he had gotten this far, why not! I reminded him how amazingly well he was doing – this was literally his first time in a store for more than 5 minutes since the return from his last deployment (his neighbors do his grocery shopping for him – I told him he needs to eat more because he’s losing weight and his fridge is empty!) So, we approached a kind family with adults and children, explained that this was a SDIT, and that they had to ask Joseph first before petting Viva. Joseph did so well – and said of course they could – even giving them treats to give Viva while she stayed in a sit. He was beaming after that. He then wanted to go and do another one with a single adult and he did it all by himself!
Joseph is also very alarmed by unexpected loud noises, so I told him before each exercise that i was going to create a loud distraction behind him by throwing something non-breakable close by as he walked away, and I wanted him to continue walking and watch Viva’s reaction. We did this several times, and each time, Joseph jumped a tiny bit, but watched as Viva merely looked back at the noise and then went back into a heel. I explained to Joseph that that is exactly what she and he needed to do – Viva WILL alert if there is something dangerous approaching (which there has not been yet), but Joseph can TRUST that Viva will “have his back”. Viva is very picky about her toys, so there’s a picture of a stuffed lamb Joseph pretended was a little doggie with Viva. Even after checkout and along, two hour session, we got back to the truck, at night, and Joseph was so proud of himself and Viva although he would never admit it, and I told him how proud I was of him. Then he turned around and said, “Can we go back in? I want to get one more thing!” That was AWESOME! We went back, got the item, and Joseph had his head held high. WHAT A TRIUMPH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!