BROOKEVILLE, Md. — The dogs at Warrior Canine Connection are veterans’ best friends.
Trained by service members, a group of the dogs will graduate on Saturday and become permanent four-legged aides to disabled veterans or veterans in need.
WCC’s third graduating class of 14 dogs will be celebrated at 1 p.m. in Montgomery College’s Globe Hall in Germantown, Md.
Among those celebrating will be Marshall Peters, one of the group’s dog instructors.
A former veteran who served in the Navy for six-and-a-half years as a hospital corpsman, Peters had a hard time transitioning back into civilian life after his deployment in 2009 and 2010 at the Role 3 Multi-National Medical Unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“The dogs were a big part of my recovery,” Peters said.
Working at WCC has changed Peters’ life. He likes to work with other service members and give back to the veterans.
“It’s more than a job,” Peters said. “It’s a calling and another mission to be a part of.”
Warrior Canine Connection is a nonprofit organization based in Brookeville. The group breeds golden and Labrador retrievers. Training starts when the puppies are three weeks old. The group’s primary focus is to socialize the dogs with different people and noises so they are used to everyday situations.
The puppies in training are taught commands and a variety of other things that will help a fellow disabled veteran, such as retrieving objects, providing balance, wheelchair pulling, opening and closing doors, and turning lights on and off.
The animal-assisted therapy at Warrior Canine Connection is a unique form of treatment for current and former service members who have had trouble adjusting to their daily lives after military service. They are given the opportunity to train service dogs that, once fully trained, go home with fellow veterans.
Training with the dogs helps address a lot of the issues that occur with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and combat trauma, Peters said.
“Being able to train the dog requires that (the veteran is) practicing sounding happy, practicing being assertive and practicing being patient,” said Rick Yount, the organization’s executive director.
The dogs are trained until they are two-and-half to three years old before being assigned to a veteran with a disability, Peters said.
WCC operates at four locations: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, The National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Battalion in Virginia, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Menlo Park, Calif.
Working with the dogs can help improve a veteran’s sense of patience and the ability to control his or her emotions, Peters said.
Trainers are encouraged to use positive, high-pitched voices to praise the dogs for doing well, Yount said.
“From what we’ve seen from the past seven years, it’s an amazing opportunity to have a veteran challenge their automatic distorted thought,” Yount said.
Not only are the veterans teaching themselves the world is a safe place, but they also are doing it for the dog, Yount said.
“We are completing (the WCC’s) mission when we see those dogs make huge differences in the veterans,” he said.