Military veterans have given their all in service to the United States of America. And many are still doing so as they deal with the aftereffects of injuries sustained while on active duty. To help with PTSD symptoms, many veterans have sought the assistance of service dogs. Some have reached out to Animal Behavior College (ABC) graduate Debbie Claseman and her husband, Gerad’s nonprofit American Service Animal Society (also known as Dogs 4 Vets) for help. The Arizona-based organization teaches veterans how to train their pets to be their service dogs.
Debbie graduated in 2009 and is an Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer (ABCDT).
“I knew ABC was a stepping-stone in the right direction,” Debbie said. “Even though ABC doesn’t teach service dog training, the school’s program is the most thorough basic dog trainer program available. It teaches so much, especially about dog breeds and how to choose the right breed for your needs.”
It was a series of events that led Debbie to pursue her life’s mission of helping others. The first came while she was on vacation in Oregon in 2005. She and Gerad were enjoying a quiet meal at a restaurant when she overheard an employee arguing with a man at the front entrance after he attempted to enter with his service dog and was turned away.
“It was the look on the man’s face that I remember most,” she recalled. “He looked so sad, defeated and humiliated. It was troubling to watch.”
Debbie often accompanied Gerad, a Navy veteran, to his check-ups at the Veteran’s Administration hospital. During those visits, she met and spoke with veterans who suffered from PTSD and many expressed their need for a service dog to assist them.
“The VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] doesn’t provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions such as PTSD because they believe there’s not enough information that proves service dogs actually help veterans with this disorder. However, service dogs do help and our students and graduates are living proof of this,” Debbie said.
She trained Gerad’s service dog and they now work as a team to help veterans train their dogs for service.
“We felt it was important to help veterans with PTSD train their dogs so they both learn and have the tools necessary to become a successful team,” Debbie said. “Dogs are healers and our organization enables these veterans to live more productive lives through the use of service animals who aren’t just canine companions but are also friends.”
The program’s first 20 weeks focuses on dog training basics, behavior fundamentals and working as a canine-human team. Teams then take various trips to public venues, including restaurants, stores, etc. Once they’re accustomed to handling different social situations, the dogs are then taught specific skills such as turning lights on and off, opening doors, etc. It’s the program’s 90 percent success rate and canine-human team approach that attracts the more than 1,000 applicants each year. To date, the organization has trained and certified more than 500 veterans and their canine companions.
“We offer canine companions for friendship. Veterans choose a dog breed they are most comfortable with regardless of the dog’s size, and we work with them to make them a team,” Debbie said. “I have this saying: Learn to dance with your dog to connect mind, body and soul. If I can touch one life and bring them [dog and veteran] together and touch their lives then my life’s purpose has been met.”
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the dog trainer program. Since ABC’s inception in 1998, the number of U.S. households owning dogs has increased from 39 percent to 60.2 percent, which equates to 89.7 million dogs, according to the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association National Owners Survey. ABC’s online dog trainer course teaches positive-reinforcement training techniques and covers a range of relevant topics, including learning theories, basic dog obedience cues, effective problem-solving, business building and pet first aid and CPR. Participants receive invaluable information that equips them to start a dog training business, work for an established company, or pursue other professional canine-related passions.
There are currently 1,026 students enrolled in ABC’s dog trainer program. The school also offers professional certifications in three other core programs including the Cat Training Program, the Grooming Instruction Program (pet groomer program) and Veterinary Assistant Program. In addition, ABC offers specialized certificates of completion in five Short-Term Programs on subjects including pet massage, pet nutrition, pet sitting, training shelter dogs, and selling and teaching private lessons.
As of April 30, 2018, ABC has graduated and certified more than 14,978 students from the Dog Training Program. For more information, call 800-795-3294 or visit www.AnimalBehaviorCollege.com.