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Creating Fur-Ever Companions

Taking care of pets offers countless benefits – just as humans care for their animals, animals care for their humans too. Committing to a consistent caretaking routine teaches responsibility and gives a person purpose. From walking and playing, the physical activity aspects improve lifestyle changes. The mental health advantages are life-altering. While reducing loneliness and lowering blood pressure, a pet’s company also increases feelings of comfort and support. Spending time with animals can naturally boost happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine which provide calming and relaxing properties. This miraculous experience is why many dogs are brought into hospitals and nursing homes to help with patients’ stress and anxiety. Dogs have the unique ability to give someone their full attention through their positive non-verbal communication and unconditional love. Regardless of age or challenges many individuals face day-to-day, well-trained docile animals can soothe and contribute positive benefits to anyone’s well-being.

Continue reading to discover a couple of local trainers who take dog companionship to a whole new level.

Founded thirty years ago by retired canine officer, Mark Thompson, Dog Training in Your Home was created to build a bridge between humans and dogs. The business started with basic obedience and has added therapy and service-level training. Unlike many board and train programs that are just for canines, these programs are specifically designed for both the dog and the owner. The pair must create trust together for their relationship to transpire into true companionship.

Along the Grand Strand area, Steve Dailey is the franchise’s local dog liaison. As a military veteran of six and a half years and retired police officer of fifteen years, he understands first-hand how important this mission is. His extensive service experience paired with his childhood development and psychology background made this position a sensible and fulfilling career path.

The lesson plans are individual and cater to specific needs. Regardless of how specialized the learning will go in the future, all dogs must start with basic obedience training. To improve rapport between the owner and the canine, this five-week program is one-on-one, meaning just the pair and Steve. He explained, “Just like people, animals learn and communicate in different ways and at varying rates. Some are easy and just want a treat or some praise, but some require more to form that bond.”

Most clients already have a pet or are looking to get one soon. While they do not exclude any dogs, the breed, size, and age do matter when it comes to matching certain needs. A puppy (8 weeks or so) will always be best to mold because they don’t have any bad habits yet to break. To push more of the advanced stuff and off-leash training, the twelve-week class is recommended. Group classes are offered for dog program graduates who are already socialized but need a tune-up. They operate like service dogs around each other because they are with their owners. Their ability to transition from a playful pet to a service animal is important.

Steve brought one of his own service dogs in training to our interview, Goose. By giving a little direction, the smart pup’s demeanor changes as he gets into the zone. “I usually only have to say a couple of keywords for him to get in the working mindset. When the vest or leash is on, he knows he’s working and has a job to do.” Steve continued, “Out in public if I feel stressed or hypervigilant, he’s there as my battle buddy to watch my back. He knows how to break my concentration or help me realize what/whom to pay attention to. In places and situations that would normally trigger my PTSD, his presence decreases my anxiety and allows me to be more comfortable and confident in my everyday life.”

Many of Steve’s canines have served a purpose. His black lab who retired from the police force, Harley, developed a sense where she could tell when Steve was having bad nightmares. She would wake him up or at least keep him from falling onto the floor by laying between him and the edge of the bed. Her cuddles supplied comfort and he would pet her until he fell peacefully back to sleep. Mason was a therapeutic animal who provided support for his wife who blew out her knee. Oakley bonded with one of his daughters early on during her teenage years and she was planning to take her sweet Doberman mix to college with her. Due to a recent house fire, some of these four-legged companions didn’t make it.

Goose and his brother, Maverick were rescued from a local puppy mill. The two were currently being trained on a service level to begin one of Steve’s future goals of linking dogs with veterans. His idea to find the right pairing is to partner with local shelters (which he already visits frequently to donate training that helps the animal’s chances of getting adopted). Although Goose and Maverick were going to be the first pups for this plan, they were so nurturing when they lost the other dogs that the brothers officially became part of the family.

Since he’s been with the company, Steve has trained at least 250 dogs so you can imagine he’s come across all sorts of personalities and disabilities. “Most recently, I met with a woman and her very skittish hound who didn’t like loud noises or even leaving the house. Oftentimes, harsh noises can be painful for dogs (and humans) suffering from tinnitus or other hearing injuries. This was a new encounter and I kind of went off script.” He clarified, “I decided to try out music therapy because ambient sounds can produce soothing effects. At first, the dog didn’t want to be around me, but after some time with the tranquil melodies, the pup was settled in my lap. It was an eye-opener for the owner and I’m excited to see their continued growth.”

From assisting humans in wheelchairs, predicting seizures, or detecting low blood sugar, service dogs can help with many other specialties for those in need. And even if a dog doesn’t go through full-service training, they provide amazing benefits for people. Pets reflect your feelings, so if you give the time and energy to build your relationship, the dogs will step up for you. As Steve says, “Your attitude runs down the leash. The more socialized and mannered the dog is, and the better you connect and communicate with them, the more fun you can have with your companion.”

For more information visit: www.myrtledogtraining.com.

Born into a dog-loving, military family, Rick Kaplan won his first blue ribbon for show dog training at five years old. When he was on the way to enlist at eighteen, a truck hit his taxi. “Looking back, that saved my life.” Rick continued, “I lost most of my friends in Vietnam.” He went on to live a successful life in New York City running a retail business and training canines on the side. Once he retired and moved to the Grand Strand, he decided to create a service for those who have served.

In 2010, Canine Angels was originally founded to match service animals with disabled veterans. Within five years, the nonprofit expanded its clientele to others who dedicate their lives to helping and serving the community like police, fireman, EMS, hospital employees, and teachers. Later, he noticed this mission would be appropriate for children as well. Thanks to this work, over a dozen dogs (in South Carolina) go to school every day with their kids who previously could not attend school due to their disabilities.

Rick rescues about a hundred local canines per year and takes them home to personally train through his intensive boot camp. After this month-long program, he can tell which dogs have the capabilities for additional training and which ones were simply meant to be great pets (either way, the animals are saved and placed in a good home). Those with special talents will stay with Rick for a year of service-level training.

Although Rick does all the teaching, his dedicated volunteers help with the imprinting work. This stage of desensitization is when the dogs visit public places such as trains, planes, and movie theatres. Rick also takes them when he plays golf to help remove their prey drive which would normally trigger them to hunt instead of obey. Not only are there many balls to chase, but there are also turkeys and deer on the course. He explained, “Being obedient at home is one thing, but for a dog to experience distractions of all kinds and stay focused – that’s the goal.”

After becoming service-level, the next step is matching the canine to the human. This depends on if they have an instant connection and if the dog’s skillset benefits the person’s specific needs. No classes are offered – each person gets individual time and energy. The two types of training he focuses on are physical (dogs that retrieve and carry things as well as provide mobility and stability) and psychiatric (dogs that help with mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, and PTSD). Regardless, the idea is to get the person back into their normal routine of life.

Every canine that trains on his beautiful, big lot of land lives with him inside his home and is always part of his family. The owners and their dogs will often visit the pool as the pups have swim time every day. When an owner is away for whatever reason, the dog comes to stay for however long is needed. If an owner passes away, the dog returns to Rick’s care until it’s time to serve again (depending on age) or until it’s their time to pass as well. So far, five dogs have permanently returned to the canine quarters and have become amazing teachers.

As you can imagine, Rick is never lonely. He’s never met a dog he doesn’t like (he can’t say the same for people). On average, he usually has about twenty dogs at a time (yes, they all sleep in the house with him but only six fit in his bed at a time). When he says “pups” the whole team directs their attention to him waiting for their next command. “Pack dogs need an alpha. They don’t mind if it’s human, but they won’t follow until you prove it.” Rick continued, “Dogs are misunderstood and then mistreated, that’s why there are so many valuable dogs at the shelter. I take pride in this work – it’s a true labor of love.”

For more information visit: www.canineangelsusa.org.

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