Training a hero is hard work. Just ask Regan, the Belgian Malanois. She graduated at the head of her class at K9s For Warriors and is top dog to her handler, Brett Simon.
Regan was a sheltered refugee from Georgia before moving to Ponte Vedra and enrolling in K9s For Warriors, a program aimed at providing service canines to military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disability. What a wag-worthy opportunity to change the life of a war veteran!
Regan was put through an evaluation process before she could begin her training. Standard weight? Check. Standard height? Check. Temperament? One that could certainly handle the stress of service-work in public. She passed with flying colors and was ready to move onward to obedience training.
You could call Regan a quick learner. In just six weeks, she mastered sit and stay, heel and down, and come-when-called — that’s a skill I’m still trying to lick!
Just like that, she forged ahead to task training. This is the nuts and bolts of the program, where dogs learn to perform skills that lessen the symptoms of PTSD for their humans. Total training hours for an average dog are usually about 220, but Regan conquered it all in half that time. She was already matched with Brett and ready to learn the tasks for his specific needs.
So what does Regan do to help Brett?
If Brett’s feeling uneasy in a social setting, Regan will create a safety bubble of space between him and the people around him. It’s called blocking and it’s used to fend off crowds and approaching people who could possibly trigger his distress.
Ordering a burger at the counter? No problem. Regan’s got his back, literally. She performs a sit-and-stay facing away to watch behind him and a mere nudge from her will make Brett aware of any distractions coming his way. If Regan has a hunch that a panic attack is building, she uses body contact to distract and return him to the here and now. Jumping up and licking his face works, but if his anxiety grows, she will rest her paws on his body, flatten her ears on her head and stare at him, as if to say “Cut it out. I am here.”
As an example, let’s say Brett stumbles and falls. Regan will rush to his side and, on command, stop-drop-and-brace. In that scenario, she gets into a helpful position, as Brett puts his hands on her shoulders or hips and slowly stands up.
And Regan is also an expert at hands-free leash walking. This skill gives Brett freedom to go about his daily routine, like grocery shopping and buying treats for Regan, with her by his side.
A hard fact: 99 percent of those with PTSD develop an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, which leads to isolation and often suicide.
But the good news is that there is hope. Locally, K9s For Warriors has already matched 170 veterans with service dogs and the waiting list continues to grow, giving both veterans and sheltered dogs a new leash on life.
For more info visit k9sforwarriors.org or