Professional dog trainer David Schnidt leads a two hour class that teaches veterans how to handle troubled dogs.
It’s part of the Circle of Change Veterans’ Dog Program. The goal is to help military veterans work through their PTSD and other psychological issues by focusing on training and working with dogs who also have issues.
Each week, a veteran is paired with a different dog. During this class, Marine Corps veteran Mark Fenn was working for the first time with a bulldog named Quinn. “We weren’t sure how he would act towards people or dogs and he really didn’t attack or do anything. He just wanted to be part of the program.”
David Schnidt is owner of Dave’s Doggie Den. He says, “If you look at PTSD, you know a lot of fear issues with dogs, aggression issues with dogs, it’s the same thing as, you know, the dogs we are fixing.”
The Circle of Change Veterans’ Dog Program Executive Director, Stephen Haight, says, “Many of the dogs are newly adopted rescues that also have PTSD and the veterans and the dogs work through their problems together.”
Fenn calls the program a win, win for vets and dogs. Most of the dogs are customers of the trainer. Many are rescues, dealing with issues of aggression or withdrawal.
Haight says, “During that two hours, they can focus on the dog and not their problems. Plus, they have the camaraderie and support of their fellow veterans in the class.”
At the end of the class, the veterans are asked to talk to the owners and explain what they worked on with their dog and what areas still need improvement. Organizers say that by teaching veterans how to take responsibility for a dog’s well being and behavior, the vets and dogs develop a mutually-healing bond.
Schnidt says, “When the dog is getting better, they feel there’s hope for them.”
The Circle of Change doesn’t charge vets to participate in the program. It relies on community support. It just received a grant of more than $13,000 from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. Vets interested in taking part should contact their local VA.