- The Perfect Partnership
The Perfect Partnership
This month, we will examine 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.
We asked Operation K9 Project Manager, Andrew Barnes, to elaborate.
Operation K9 Project Manager, Andrew Barnes:
Matching exactly the right dog is specific to each individual veteran and their family. The process generally takes many months and is determined through interviews and a case management approach. This includes the veteran’s doctor and clinical support team. I hold a case meeting with the psychologist/psychiatrist before proceeding with training to ensure that we are all aligned.
A family meeting with everyone present is important. However, if the family situation is complex, I will modify it to a meeting with just the significant other (if applicable) and then another with any children. The veteran is always present for these meetings.
I will then organise handling sessions for the veteran to work with a variety of dogs in training. This allows me to assess the right fit and ensure that there is a special bond between the veteran and the dog they are eventually matched with.
From quite early on, I form my own impression of which dog I trust to best fulfil each veteran’s needs. In some cases, once handling sessions have been undertaken, I will place a dog that I think is a match for a weekend. This allows the veteran to determine what it is like to have a dog with them 24/7 and for me to assess how the relationship worked. This process is repeated as many times as necessary.
When we are confident a match has been made, we then work with both the veteran and the dog on the veteran’s specific needs. They also train together on general tasks. These include identifying each veteran’s anxiety cues and interrupting them through physical contact such as head on lap, hugging or nudging.
OpK9 dogs also learn to retrieve items when asked. Finding the leash helps greatly with motivation to then take the dog out for a walk and is also helpful if the veteran is experiencing memory loss. Lost keys or other household items can often be a cause of stress for veterans with PTSD. Having their dog find the lost item can help ensure that the situation doesn’t escalate.
Recently we worked with a veteran who wanted deep pressure across his chest when he woke from a nightmare, so we taught the dog to jump up onto his bed and lay across his chest on a verbal cue from the client.
Our work isn’t over when a veteran is successfully matched with their Operation K9 dog. They will be together for at least eight years until the dog is retired, and we will continue to monitor their progress and assist them, whenever we are required.