Military combat situations are some of the most traumatic experiences imaginable. As a result of combat, many veterans develop a variety of mental health issues including anxiety and other forms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Along with anxiety disorder, signs of PTSD may also include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and hypervigilance.
When veterans are engaged in combat, they have two main objectives:
Executing the combat mission at hand.
Ensuring the safety of every soldier around them.
Soldiers trying for months if not an entire year for these types of combat situations. With a very defined task at hand, they’ve been conditioned to function in a state of hypervigilance to ensure the safety of fellow soldiers around them. When they return home from a combat mission overseas, the civilian lifestyle that was once normal is now completely foreign.
There is no longer a combat mission for these soldiers to execute, creating a period of very high stress for these individuals as they reintegrate into society.
What Does PTSD Look Like?
What we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, veterans of World War II or Vietnam may have called “shell-shock.” Modern day science now classifies PTSD as a mental health disorder, plaguing patients with difficult stressors as they recover from trauma.
As a result of the anxiety, hypervigilance, depression, and outbursts of anger caused by PTSD, many veterans won’t leave the house.
“More than 20 veterans with PTSD take their lives each day, resulting in over 7,000 suicides a year.”
Adopting a New Mission Outside of Combat.
Certified service dogs can help combat veterans in a variety of ways. Caring for a service dog often provides the veteran with a new mission. Similar to the veteran’s mission of keeping fellow soldiers safe during combat, maintaining the health and well-being of a service dog provides the veteran with a central focus during reintegration into civilian life.
The mission of a service dog is simple—performing specific tasks to reduce anxiety, anger and frustration that are high-level symptoms of PTSD.
How Do Service Dogs Reduce Stress for Combat Veterans?
The nose of a certified service dog is so receptive that it can sense a rise in the cortizal levels of a combat veteran. This signals to the dog that a veteran is experiencing heightened levels of stress, which service dogs are trained to reduce by pressing paws on pressure points like the chest and thighs.
A service dog can also perform this type of stress-reduction even when a veteran is asleep and clearly experiencing night tremors. Service dogs are trained to lick or nudge a veteran to wake them from this experience.
“Service dogs help ground combat veterans with PTSD in the present, providing security through companionship.”
Along with this ability to mitigate anxiety, trained service dogs can help lead combat veterans out of stressful public situations when the dog picks up physical cues like fidgeting that indicate the veteran is experiencing a flashback or anxiety attack.
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Training and Nurturing Puppies at Project 2 Heal:
At Project 2 Heal, we breed Labrador Retriever puppies for the purpose of donating these animals at 8 to 12 weeks of age to one of our partner organizations. From there, our puppies are trained extensively in service dog work and matched with an individual in need.
Our process begins with Early Neurological Stimulation, which are exercises conducted during the first two weeks of life—beginning at only 48 hours after birth!—that slightly stress the puppy's nervous system and allow them to become less reactive to novel stimuli as adults. This process includes the following:
Tactile stimulation: Stimulating puppy paws through touch our tickling.
Holding the head of the puppy erect.
Holding the head of the puppy pointed downward.
Supine position: Resting the puppy on its back in the palm of hands.
Thermal Stimulation: Placing feet of puppy on top of a cool, damp towel and allowing the puppy to move about.
Service Dog Scent Training:
Also occurring during the first 14 days, service dog training includes a process called early scent introduction. This training exposes dogs to smells it will encounter during working life. During this process, trainers pay close attention to the way puppies react to various smells. This helps identify which puppies may not be suited to work as a service dog.
Service Dog Clicker Training:
Championed by Karen Prior Academy, clicker training service dogs is a method that teaches puppies about associations. Puppies learn commands through a combination of rewards and clicking sounds. During service dog training, high-level tasks are broken into smaller tasks, after which puppies are rewarded with food and stimulated with sound from a handheld clicker.
Eventually food and clicking sounds are phased out so that puppies are able to execute tasks upon command.
Our mission is to reduce the cost and time necessary to place a service dog with a veteran, child with special needs, or adult with disabilities.
How Can You Help Further Our Mission?
When you donate only $5 per month, your contribution covers important expenses, including:
First vet visit for entire litter
50 pounds of high-quality dog
1 puppy eye exam
6 bags of high-value reward training treats
1 puppy-in-training service dog vest
As you can see, there are a number of ways that $5 monthly donations can make a real impact at Project 2 Heal. With an average cost of $5,000 to raise and train a puppy litter of puppies through the first 8 weeks of life, we'd love for you to join us on our mission.
You can become a donor at any level that works for you. We need your help to raise puppies and change lives.
Our bread and butter (or should we say, "kibble?"), these donors cover items listed above, including first vet visits!
Each of our $10 monthly donors feeds an entire litter from birth to donation. (That's a lot of puppy food!)
$25 a month prevents fleas and ticks for a pup. With 30+ puppies expected in 2021, these donors mean the world!