What a WONDERFUL first public session for William, an active duty Wounded Warrior, and his gorgeous dog, Dallas!! William was a medic for 16 years, and suffers from PTSD as a result. However, he has chosen to continue working teaching other medics from his vast experience and knowledge base! What courage and loyalty! Yes, explaining what he saw in battle is difficult for him when he is teaching, but those he teaches get the extra benefit of being with someone who was actually there. Sometimes, William has to take some pretty deep breaths talking about his difficult experiences to his men – he pretty much relives those experiences every day. There is little time for healing when you’re still exposed to the battle wounds every day. His schedule is erratic, and each day he has to wake up at different times, as early as 4, work long shifts, and the next day, his schedule might be totally different. Of course, this also affects his natural sleep cycle, giving his mind little respite from having the chance to fight of night terrors. So this is a particularly interesting challenge – training a Service Dog while the handler is still active duty. William does an exceptional job at work, but when he comes home, he is plagued by the same PTSD that other Wounded Warriors suffer – fear of crowded places, anxiety with strangers around, loud noises, etc., and this frustrates him. His beautiful family explained that his frustration often makes him depressed or angry, and keeps him from doing things with the family outside the home. Well, from what I saw on our first public outing, I don’t think it’s going to be long until he, SDIT Dallas, and William’s family will be out enjoying the world together again!
Of course, I was so excited to see Dallas, as he is a mere 9 month-old Mastiff, now one of my all-time favorite breeds, and is as big as a small horse! Dallas is full of nothing but gentleness, love, and is smart as a whip. Seriously – you tell this dog something once, and he LEARNS it. His eye contact is amazing. So when I arrived at William’s house, at about the most busy time for a Petsmart visit, I knew William would be a little nervous – but off we went!!
WILLIAM AND DALLAS WERE AMAZING!!!!! Words can’t even describe how exceptional both of them were at Petsmart – with dogs everywhere, people in awe of Dallas’ beauty crowding around, and strangers approaching us at every turn asking about Dallas’ breed. We DID manage to find plenty of time to do serious training in quite spots, and spent a long time there, but it was worth it. I had to ask William a few times if he was doing OK, because the amount of attention they received was unbelievable. There was a woman who worked for dog food company that I have seen at many Petsmarts, and although very friendly, she didn’t quite get the concept of Service Dog training. For example, she would follow us around asking if she could watch the training, and we would allow a little bit, but then I would say “Now, we REALLY have to focus on this part, so we will need total privacy”. She was very kind. Then, at one point, we turned the corner and there were literally about 6 adults and maybe 8 children that she had “gathered” together to see if we could “educate them” about Service Dogs!! The look on William’s face was like he had seen a ghost! So I asked William if he wanted to do this – after all – here we were facing one of his greatest anxiety-provokers – but like the champ he is, he said he might as well start learning!!!
So I talked to the “audience” about how Service Dogs work, how they are very highly-trained dogs, and that anytime you see someone with a dog in a vest like Dallas’, be sure to READ if the vest says “Please ask to pet me” or “Do not pet”. The children asked, “What does Dallas do for you, sir?”, and I looked at William and asked if he wanted me to answer or if he wanted to answer. He was taken a bit off guard, so I told the children that Dallas helps his dad with “special medical tasks”. Then, of course, they all asked, one by one (even the parents), “May we please pet your dog?” William said yes, and one-by-one, with me making sure they knew to always pet a new dog UNDER the chin, they stepped up and did just that – giggling, loving it, and the parents did the same – in awe of how Dallas was so gentle and stayed in a “sit” position the whole time. It really was beautiful, and I think William felt very proud – not just of Dallas, but of himself. I know I was.
Quite training was flawless. Dallas knows “sit”, “down”, a perfect “heel”, “watch me”, “sit/stay”, “down/stay”, “wait” before entering doors (had to remind William of that), “controlled load and unload”, and even did natural “covers”. Dallas had no startle response whatsoever to created distractions, and could stay in a “heel” when William dropped the leash. Dallas did several meet and greets with tiny, barking dogs and big barking dogs, and Dallas just stood there and did his sniffing and carried on. It was truly remarkable. I showed William several techniques for carrying out these commands, first doing them myself, and then having William do them. William learned very easily. I think he felt a bit unsure that Dallas would perform for him as well as he did with me, but Dallas proved him wrong!!
When we were done, I congratulated William profusely, and asked him when was the last time he had spent that much time (about 2 hours) in a crowded public setting. He shook his head and said, “I couldn’t even tell you”. I made sure he realized what a true triumph he had just accomplished – and to focus on that every time he started to feel depressed between sessions – that he CAN do it, and he has the most wonderful, beautiful, slobbery companion at his side that will continue to help him achieve more and more!!!