Waco dog trainer Lisa Williams placed Sissy with Dennis two years ago. Sissy was one of about 20 dogs Williams has trained to work with veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Once a dog bonds with a warrior, it’s not uncommon for the dog to help in this kind of situation. Some dogs will lick their face, trying to calm them down. Most of the time it works,” Williams said.
Williams’ training program consists of 12 to 16 weeks from start to finish, beginning with finding a dog that will work well as a service dog.
“Sometimes we can use the warrior’s dog if it can pass my evaluation, but in most cases, they are shelter or rescue dogs,” Williams said, noting that she has used numerous breeds over the years ranging from Labradors, German shepherds, border collies, catahoulas and Australian shepherds.
“I’ve had 15 years of experience training dogs. It’s what I enjoy to do — to help warriors while placing a dog, hoping they have a better life,” Williams said.
She also has trained rottweilers and Dobermans for service dogs, but doesn’t suggest those and similar breeds for veterans who plan to take their dog on an Army base (those breeds are not allowed, regardless of their service dog status).
“The total cost is $2,500 per team and we don’t charge a dime to the warrior,” Williams said. “Many times, my warriors have cut their medications in half after getting a service dog. I had one guy who use to carry a gun everywhere he went until he got a dog. Now instead of carrying a gun, he takes the dog.”
Following a dog’s evaluation and around four-weeks of training, Williams works on finding a match with veterans suffering from PTSD. Most of her veterans have returned from war recently, but she has had veterans from almost every time period. If the dog and veteran are deemed to be a good match for each other, the training begins. The warrior takes the dog home and brings it to the weekly training sessions with Williams.
“It’s a bonding issue. They have to trust the dog and the dog has to trust you,” Williams said. “Not all dogs are able to do this and the handler plays a big role in the training too.”
Part of their training is done out in public, taking the dog and veteran with her to busy public places such as grocery stores, restaurants and pet stores so the dog especially gets used to the sounds.
“We want to make sure the dog is use to the sounds and noises and doesn’t get spooked or scared,” Williams said.
Once the training is complete, the veteran takes the dog to get the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship classification for the team. With specific training to help the veteran deal with PTSD, the dog will be eligible for service dog designation as well, according to the American Disabilities Act.
“The veteran will still have to do ongoing training with the dog,” Williams said. “If there is a problem, he can bring the dog back and we can see if we can fix it.”
VVA member John Chandler of Jacksonville has seen results of Williams’ training. A retired law enforcement officer, Chandler is a member of the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, which trains narcotic dogs. Through this group he met Williams years ago, leading Williams to working with veterans with PTSD.
“Finding a dog that will fit the bill isn’t easy,” Chandler explained. “I’ve looked at 50 dogs before and found a little glitch. But when I see certain dogs, I just know they have it. It’s just the way the dog handles itself.”