Warriors Heart Helps Save Veterans’ Lives Through K9 Training

BANDERA – From herding sheep and cattle to search and rescue missions, K9 officers have taken on a number of roles throughout their careers.

The most important role, however, is to serve as a best friend to those who need their greatest support – military veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress.

These K9 Officers make all the difference in Bandera at the Warriors Heart Ranch.

“These dogs help reduce the risk of suicide in our veterans and that’s a pretty big goal that I feel like they probably understand,” said Michelle Axmaker, K9 manager at Warriors Heart.

Axmaker says that once a dog gets past basic obedience skills, the dog moves on to more specific assistance dog training.

“We are going to spend 120 hours per behavior. One behavior we could teach them to do is to reduce anxiety,” Axmaker said.

The dog is trained to repeatedly touch his handler until he stops the bouncing of the knee associated with nervousness or intense feelings and the anxiety lessens.

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Another skill the K9 can learn is how to help quell nightmares, which Axmaker says her dog Otis has helped her with.

“It became very intrusive in my life. I was on a lot of medication, going to therapy, working with EMDR and it wasn’t helping to make these nightmares go away,” Axmaker said.

Otis, Axmaker’s companion, friend and service dog, completed the training and was put to work.

“His work is very important. When I start vocalizing in my sleep, he puts a paw on my face, kisses me on the face and of course it will wake me up,” Axmaker said.

The affection these dogs show even helps reduce the veteran’s reliance on prescription drugs.

“One hundred percent of our clients were able to reduce medication for their patients, for their sleep disorder, their depression, their anxiety because of the dog,” Axmaker said.

Warriors Heart veterans can apply to the K9 academy to train their K9 to their specific PTS handicap or they can learn to become a dog trainer. Axmaker says either program has proven to be a game-changer in the lives of veterans learning to cope with PTSD.

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Dogs come to Warriors Heart from shelters, rescues and public donations. Out of a hundred dogs, at least two make the cut. The end goal is not just to provide a service but to save a life.

Warriors Heart offers drug addiction, chemical dependency, and PTSD treatment to active and military veterans and first responders. For more information on this program, visit warriorsheart.com or call the Warriors Heart 24-hour helpline at 844-448-2567.

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