Being a Service Human
Written by John Smithhart, K9 Good Manners
In the past 9 years I’ve worked with many civilian dogs that have been horribly abused, neglected and/or poorly socialized with humans or other animals. With myself and my head trainer Tony, both being prior bomb dog handler/trainer’s from the military and defense contracting worlds, we constantly see the similarities between many of these dogs and our own Veterans coming home from war. With so many Veterans coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,(PTSD), Traumatic Brain injuries,(TBI) and other war related injuries, our education and understanding of these disorders and how they are treated is constantly improving Dogs have been playing a larger role in helping humans recover and re-socialize than they ever have before. By now most people have heard the term Emotional Support animal who is similar to a service dog. We are also finding dogs to show signs of these similar disorders and WHY WOULDN’T THEY? Dogs that get shot, stabbed, burned, dragged behind or thrown out of a moving vehicle are not going to accept nor trust every human. Dogs who are made to fight other dogs are not going to be so accepting of other dogs and in most instances humans,(because we sure know the humans fighting dogs DO NOT have the dog’s care and well being in mind).
Most dogs don’t come through abuse and neglect like it never happened. Some dogs don’t show the signs unless they are put in an similar situation again or around the a person who may show similarities to the abuser. But most of these dogs don’t ever fully get over the severity of the abuse.They need humans that can lead them through life and make sure that they are getting the help they need. I call these people SERVICE HUMAN’S.
A Service Human can make sure the dog is learning how to survive a human world. This person can ensure the dog knows obedience, and is actively working on it daily. Obedience is the key to so much when working with these,”Special Needs” dogs. It builds confidence, teaches the dog how to get through situations while focusing on pre-conditioned responses, giving the dog something to think about and focus on, other than what may cause anxiety. Like if the dog is scared of men, but know’s how to perform a sit/stay, then normally a man can approach and walk away without the dog trying to run away from the situation. When you perform that action over and over the dog get’s better and better. But without the pre-conditioning the dog would give into the anxiety and run away.
Another job of our Service Human would be to NOT put the dog in situations or environments that will always cause stress and anxiety. A dog used as a bait dog, may never be able to go to your favorite dog park no matter how much we wish it could. Just like a Veteran with PTSD/TBI is probably not going to ever enjoy the 4th of July fireworks show! It’s time to be realistic about what these dog’s needs and who the people are that we want to help them. Rescues and sanctuaries that take these dogs on MUST know that the people working with these dogs understand the needs and limitations of that particular dog and have a true plan of rehabilitation.
In closing I’d ask that we start looking at these dogs more like “Special Needs” animals and the best people for them are ones that are willing to call themselves a SERVICE HUMAN. It really drives me bonkers when I hear people with these dogs complaining about all the things they cannot do with the dog. It’s time to understand these dog’s are never going to be like that perfect puppy that was properly socialized and never had a bad day in it’s life. The dog’s that go through this type of traumatic experience should be understood and the Human involved should embrace his or her SERVICE.