Laurie had an amazing training session with Wounded Warrior, James, who was paired with Service Dog, Sadie. James said Sadie has fit into their family perfectly. He takes her to work at San Antonio Military Medical Center every day, and Sadie is an absolute wonder for all the patients he cares for. James also gets to take long breaks with Sadie to take her for walks on the base grounds when his anxiety gets too high. So far, James has only been working with Sadie, who knows all commands, at home and at work. Sadie sleeps with James and consistently wakes him from his night terrors. Sadie also alerts James and his wife if their child is crying or not sleeping well!
We had our first public training session at Petsmart. James’ PTSD and TBI are so severe that he has not been able to go to public places other than work without his wife and Sadie with him. So this was an extreme challenge for him. When I met James outside of Petsmart, he was sitting with Sadie in a cover, already in a full-blown panic attack – sweating, feeling lightheaded, etc. I stayed with them outside for quite some time, and explained to him that this panic attack is absolutely normal and expected for someone with his conditions. I helped him do some deep-breathing exercises, had him focus on Sadie and pet her until he had calmed down a bit. He said he felt like leaving, but he didn’t want to give up. I was so proud of him! I promised him that we would go very slowly in Petsmart, and that any time he started to panic, we would step to a quiet area so that he could breath and focus on Sadie, letting her know he needed her.
We entered Petsmart slowly, with Sadie waiting at the door until James told her to “go through”. Then we walked around the edges of Petsmart slowly, letting James get comfortable with the amount of people and dogs there. Luckily, it wasn’t very crowded, and James said that that helped. He kept saying he was still anxious, but I reminded him that I was right beside him, and Sadie, who is always eying her surroundings, would always alert James if there were anything he should worry about. One huge trigger for James is children, due to his past experiences in battle. He loves them, and wants to conquer this fear he gets because he immediately goes into a flashback. The first thing we did was make an appointment for Sadie to get a furminator treatment for her coat. I had James come into the small grooming area, which was crowded, and let him stand in the corner with Sadie in a front cover while I made the appointment for him. I kept checking with him to see if he was OK with a thumb’s up, and he did great.
Next, we just started going up and down the aisles slowly, found a collar where Sadie stayed in a perfect heel, and practiced just walking and having James walk by people and other dogs calmly. When people would ask if they could pet the dog, James actually said absolutely, put Sadie in a “sit/stay”, and James and Sadie did perfectly! The more we walked and talked, the calmer you could see James becoming. We did several meet and greets with other dogs, and Sadie was a perfect lady even with the dogs that would bark or jump. James was so proud of her!! We picked out some items for Sadie, looked at the birds and fish, and actually, James was able to do a meet and greet with a child! He was beaming after accomplishing that.
James and I talked about how things were going at home, because I noticed that while Sadie performed perfectly, and responded so wonderfully when James would squat down and give her love, their seemed to be a bit of distance between them. So I asked James about what happens when he gets home from work and is frustrated or angry about something. He said he usually goes out onto the back porch alone and sits there, leaving Sadie inside, because he doesn’t want Sadie to get upset. I explained to him that it was Sadie’s JOB to be there during those difficult times. She needs to see him when he is feeling at his worst – Sadie can handle that – because that it what creates the bond. He agreed to make sure just he and Sadie spend that time together alone, so that Sadie can feel his moods and comfort him. Sometimes, James also said that he retreats to his room when he is feeling bad, so that he doesn’t take it out on his family. I asked him if he takes Sadie in there with him every time. He again said no, because he didn’t want to upset Sadie. We talked a long time about why it is desperately important that he include Sadie when he feels this way, because that is her job, and she needs to know that James needs her during those difficult moments and will provide comfort. This is so essential to the bonding.
James understood, and said he would do this, instead of letting Sadie just be in another room with his wife and child and their puppy, Colby (who loves to play with Sadie).
When we finally left Petsmart, I mentioned to James that he had survived an entire hour in Petsmart and DID IT!!!! I hugged him and told him how proud I was that he did it. He was proud, too!!!!! I told him some jokes when we left and although he said he would sit in his car a bit to decompress, I reminded him to focus on Sadie and give her love and treats!!!!