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It takes a special dog: Selection & Training

This month, we are delving a little deeper into the qualities that an Operation K9 dog must possess in order to make a huge difference to an ADF veteran’s wellbeing. Naturally, most dogs generally tend to have a calming influence on humans – but an OpK9 dog must provide much more.

Getting it right is a complex process.

We asked RSB Assistance Dog Trainer, Daniel, to elaborate.


RSB Assistance Dog Trainer, Daniel Fitzgerald:

“The ideal qualities I look for in a potential Operation K9 dog are low environmental distractions, low leash tension and quick, reliable responses to obedience cues. These three attributes are vital, as they help ensure that the dog isn’t increasing the veteran’s frustration in any way.

An OpK9 dog must also have the ability to bond very strongly to their veteran. This can be achieved through creating many positive associations from the handler towards the dog, but I also believe that some dogs have a natural tendency to bond more strongly than others. Our dogs love to complete the tasks required to be an assistance dog and feel a sense of satisfaction, this additionally increases the bond.

Strong eye contact and constant “check-ins” on walks are also important, along with a tendency to be looking for and aware of, client stress cues, so that a response will be quick and consistent.

The dog must want to be consistently in the presence of their veteran, happy to follow them not only into a range of outside environments and situations, but even into different rooms in the house.

Confidence in a range of different environments and situations is crucial, as this will help veterans that may be feeling hyper-vigilant to gain reassurance through the confidence and calmness that their dog is showing. A dog that is flinching or shuddering at noises would not be helpful to someone who is currently hyper vigilant. RSB’s breeding and puppy education program ensures all the dogs that come in for Operation K9 training have strong temperamental qualities and are very well socialised.

OpK9 Assistance Dogs are trained to assist with household tasks.

An Operation K9 dog should love physical contact. The benefits of patting a dog are well documented and we want it to be an enjoyable experience for both the dog and veteran. I particularly like dogs that choose to always have some part of their body resting on the handler. Of course, we train for this also, but it does come more naturally for some dogs than others.


It is important that the dog has a keen desire to learn and is easy to motivate. This is also helpful for veterans as they can achieve a greater level of calmness, simply by using positive reinforcement techniques to maintain or teach their dog new behaviours. The veteran is learning to look out for the “positive behaviours” that their dogs are providing.”


 Next month, Operation K9 Instructor, Andrew Barnes, will explain the complex method of matching an ADF veteran to exactly the right OpK9 dog to suit their very specific needs. Then, once the match has been made, the commitment and ongoing training that goes into ensuring they form and retain, the perfect partnership.

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