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Freedom Dogs: War Heroes

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When Joshua Leeds and I presented at the annual Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference in October, we met so many inspirational trainers, behaviorists, and dog lovers, amongst a huge variety of dog professionals. One woman in particular, Beth Russell, caught our attention because of a very unique service dog organization that she started called Freedom Dogs. This remarkable organization offers custom-trained specialty service dogs to wounded members of the military returning from armed conflict.

Freedom Dogs’ mission is to create a way to speed the recovery and enhance the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs. Joshua and I asked Beth how we could help. She told us that Freedom Dogs’ trainers are always interested in methods that enhance their training of these very special dogs as well as assist them in helping the young persons reintegrate back into society so they can lead fulfilling lives. We donated music for their training classes and we were so pleased to hear recently that Through a Dog’s Ear music is one of the tools that is helping Freedom Dogs accomplish their mission.

As training sessions begin, Music to Calm your Canine Companion is played. Beth said “This music has had a significant impact on the dogs, the marines, and the trainers. Dogs settle more quickly and seem to be more focused on the tasks at hand. The Marines calm and body tensions ease. And the trainers comment on how they feel relaxed and better prepared to handle the stress of the work with the dogs and Marines. This is especially helpful when we hold our training clinics where there are many dogs (of varying ages and levels of training) and trainers and Marines in one room working together.”

I was very moved when I learned how much Through a Dog’s Ear was helping these dogs and Marines. In asking her more about Freedom Dogs, I learned that their programs consist of two distinct entities:

The Partner Program pairs a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a part time basis, as an adjunct to his/her rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Dogs often work with a wounded warrior for a specific time frame and then have that warrior pass the leash to another wounded warrior who has VERY different needs. The dogs need to adjust on the spot, and they do!

The Partner for Life Program places a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a permanent basis. These dogs do not fit neatly into any service dog category as they are trained to work with more than one disability in one person, or with varying disabilities in multiple people. There are very few training facilities willing to train these special dogs, as it is quite time consuming and tedious. The cost is nearly double that of training other service dogs.

The Freedom Dogs’ trainers volunteer approximately 10-12 hours a week and travel an average of 70 miles one way. In addition to Music to Calm your Canine Companion being played during classes, Driving Edition: Music to Calm your Dog in the Caris played as the dogs go to and from the sessions. Beth says, “The dogs become totally relaxed while riding in the car. This seems to help them work through the many different needs some of the young men and women have.”

There are over 40,000 injured service members returning from combat. The signature injuries of this war are TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Of all returning service persons, over 40% suffer from PTSD. Currently, suicide deaths have taken a greater toll on the troops than combat injuries. These very special dogs are working to curb these alarming statistics one hero at a time. Through a Dog’s Ear is honored and humbled to be helping the dogs, trainers, and Marines. 

 

 

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Through a Trainer’s Ear

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by guest blogger Casey Matthews-Lomonaco, Owner of Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training

Last October, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the city of Oakland to attend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers contest after winning the Dogwise John Fisher Essay contest.  (If you’d like to learn more about one of the world’s greatest dogs, you can read my essay Dances with Dogs about Monte, my reactive Saint Bernard.)

With Turid Rugaas, Terry Ryan, Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Kathy Sdao, Nicole Wilde, and Bob Bailey speaking at the conference, it would have been impossible for me to tell you which speaker I was most excited about seeing.  While I learned a great deal from all the speakers at the conference, I must admit that the one that impressed me the most, that really made me reevaluate my understanding of how dogs interact with and experience their world, was Lisa Spector and Joshua Leeds’ “Through a Dog’s Ear” presentation.

I’ll admit, when I attended the conference, I was relatively unfamiliar with Through a Dog’s Ear. I knew Lisa as a fellow DogStarDaily.com blogger and as a twitter friend, but I had not read the book or heard any of the music other than short samples.  Nonetheless, I was intrigued and elected to attend Lisa and Joshua’s presentation.

I am so, so thankful I did.  What a wonderful, exciting presentation it was, and waking up to beautiful music at your first conference session of the day certainly starts the day off right.  Lisa and Joshua opened my mind, but more importantly, my ears and made me really think about how much sound actually effects not only our own, but our dogs’ experiences of the world.

Immediately upon returning home, I placed an order for my own copy of the Through a Dog’s Ear book and CD.  I loved it every bit as much as I loved Lisa and Joshua’s presentation at the conference and quickly began to recommend it to my clients. 

The feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. And I was very impressed with the results from a client’s dog that had been anxious when her owner left the house. I had the owner schedule a time every day when she could listen to Music to Calm Your Canine Comapnion with her dog while giving her dog a massage and using T-Touch techniques.  I had her play it quietly when her dog was resting at home.  Then we began to have her play the same music when we started practicing controlled separation.  We’ve been able to see significant progress in increasing duration of separation since the addition of the music combined with massage techniques.  The owner has responded that she finds the music to be exceptionally calming to her as well.

Happily for me, I have found the same to be true.  I am naturally a relatively anxious person.  After hearing Lisa and Joshua at the APDT conference, I began paying particular attention to how the sounds I surround myself with affect me emotionally.  There are certain songs I pull up on my iPod when I need a little energy boost, other songs that prove cathartic when I am angry or frustrated.  Some songs make me feel silly, others make me feel sad.  Through a Dog’s Ear makes me feel relaxed and more focused.

I have traditionally avoided listening to music when I am training dogs since it generally breaks my focus and leads me to be distracted.  I have not found that to be true with Through a Dog’s Ear.  It is especially helpful, played at very quiet levels on my iPod, when I am doing work with Monte on desensitization and counter conditioning for his reactivity to other dogs, a time when I am prone to be exceptionally nervous and when clarity and calm is really needed to ensure our success.

The music has also been beneficial outside of my training.  My anxiety prevented me from getting a driver’s license for quite some time.  I was afraid to drive, and was often anxious even riding in the car.  However, it was important to me personally and to my business that I conquer this fear. 

I recently passed my driver’s test, just months before my 30th birthday!  When I first started driving on my own, I was, to put things mildly, a nervous wreck.  White-knuckled, I was overwhelmed and under-confident.  The punk music that I normally thrive on was not doing me any favors. Despite the fact that I absolutely love punk music, it was certainly not helping me to feel more focused, calm, and collected when driving.

I decided to try something entirely different, “Music to Calm your Canine Companion”.  What an unbelievable difference!  Almost automatically, my brain seemed to clear and my pulse slowed to something more manageable.  I felt focused and less anxious than I had previously.  It was a fantastic experience, and I immediately messaged Lisa to tell her about it on Facebook after that trip.  To be honest, there are still occasions that require I sing NoFX songs as loud as possible at the top of my lungs. But on days like today, for instance, when I am trying to drive on some icy, slick roads, I feel safer driving when I listen to Through a Dog’s Ear music.  It’s like a soothing balm for frazzled nerves, and gives me a feeling of instant safety and focus.

Now that I’ve seen changes both in my own dogs (who are happily sleeping, enjoying Through a Dog’s Ear with me as I write this), dogs belonging to my clients, and yes, in my own behavivor/emotions and those of my clients, I can’t recommend Through a Dog’s Ear often or heartily enough.