In July 2008, Licensed Social Worker Rick Yount created the first Warrior dog-training program to provide a safe, effective, non-pharmaceutical intervention to help treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The program, based at the Palo Alto VA’s Men’s Trauma Recovery Program in Menlo Park, CA evolved into a highly respected intervention. To date, hundreds of Service Members and Veterans suffering from symptoms of combat stress have participated.
Rick was asked in 2009 to establish the Warrior dog-training program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) in Washington, D.C. In October of 2010, he and the program were invited to be part of the PTSD and TBI research, treatment, and education mission at the new National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), in Bethesda, MD – located at what is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
In 2011, Warrior Canine Connection was founded to expand the availability of this therapeutic service dog-training program to DoD and VA medical treatment facilities throughout the country, and to conduct research to establish this model as an evidence-based therapy for PTS and TBI.
Training a service dog for a fellow Veteran provides a valuable opportunity for a Warrior suffering from psychological injuries to reintegrate into civilian life. As part of his or her training, Warriors have the responsibility to teach the dogs that the world is a safe place. Through that process, they must convince themselves of the same.
Warrior trainers are taught to praise and provide treats to their dogs when they experience a startling event, such as hearing a car backfire. Rather than turning inward to focus on their past trauma, the trainers must get outside of their own heads to focus on the dogs and their mission to help another Veteran. Additionally, dogs offer opportunities for Warrior trainers – who often isolate themselves from society – to experience positive interactions with members of the community. Their training requires emotionally numb Warriors to demonstrative positive emotion in order to successfully teach their dogs.
Warrior Canine Connection trains and places Service Dogs for physical and psychiatric disabilities, Facility Dogs and Military Family Support Dogs. Applicants must agree to follow Warrior Canine Connection and Assistance Dogs International standards of care and ethics for working dogs; including adhering to all exercise, health, behavior and training regiments. In addition, all applicants must commit to maintaining the training level of each dog and give it opportunities to use its skills. Applicants must also attend a 2-3 week training camp at WCC headquarters and participate in ongoing follow-up visits and training for the lifetime of the partnership.