Service dogs

Jackie Martin and her military-veteran family feel so lucky and blessed that they all have served their country and come back in one piece that they want to pay it forward to other combat vets who might be struggling.

It is why they created Napa Service Dogs, a fledgling nonprofit that will adopt a rescue dog, pay for it to be trained as either a companion therapy dog, or a service dog, and given for free to a veteran.

Martin’s husband, Jack, was a Navy pilot, and their two sons were both Marines – all of whom saw combat – and one son is still serving in reserves, she said. They also have a wide range of friends who are veterans as well, she said.

American combat veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or are physically disabled can be matched with a rescue dog that has been trained by local animal training expert Dan Cartwright. Depending on the needs of the veteran, the dog will be trained as either a therapy dog or a service dog.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Martin said. A rescue dog gets a second chance and a vet gets a dog trained to help with their specific needs whether it’s physical for someone wheelchair-bound, or emotional for those with PTSD.

Properly trained dogs are a comfort to veterans. A trained dog allows them to navigate the civilian world, she said.

To date, Cartwright has trained one dog for Napa Service Dogs, but because of Martin’s work schedule they have not been able to focus much on fundraising, which is necessary to be able to pay Cartwright for his services and pay for any adoption fees and veterinarian services for the adoptive dog. She said when she’s done with her current projects, she plans to take some time off of work and refocus her attention to Napa Service Dogs.

“Dan is one of the most amazing trainers, he’s awesome. He can pretty much train anything,” Martin said.

And he has trained a variety of animals in his more than 40 years of work. He’s worked with killer whales, sea lions and dolphins at places such as Marine World USA; he’s worked with elephants, lions, chimpanzees, tigers, leopards, cougars and other smaller primates; and he’s been a trainer to other trainers in the United States and overseas. He focuses now on dogs and owns and runs Good Dog! Training, where he does private one-on-one training, and on the side takes wine lovers with dogs on tours to dog-friendly wineries.

There’s a big difference in the type of dog he looks for when he’s looking for a therapy dog versus a service dog, Cartwright said.

A therapy dog can be “any kind of dog” – especially in size — and needs basic obedience skills. It needs to be a dog that is comfortable with different people and in a variety of environments. It needs to “get along with everybody” and “make you feel good,” he said.

A service dog tends to be larger because it may need to support someone’s weight, Cartwright said. Labrador retrievers are one of the best dogs for this service because of their temperament; they are typically mellow and affable. Golden retrievers are another good breed, he said.

He looks for a dog that shows no sign of aggression and is willing to be trained. He wants a younger dog so that the veteran will have their service dog for several years.

His training method rarely uses treats. When a dog is motivated by food, it is “not really working for you, it is working for the treat. I want the dog to look me in the eye” and be rewarded by his interaction, he said.

He has four main methods of reinforcing dog behavior, starting with praise.

“Every dog I’ve ever worked with really wants to please,” he said.

If that doesn’t do the trick, he uses “tactile reinforcement” such as belly rubs. Next down his list is offering a favorite toy, but this doesn’t work with all dogs, Cartwright said. His last resort is treats, and he rarely needs to use this. He’s not opposed to the use of treats though, it’s just not necessary the way he works.

Napa Service Dogs’ first dog, a lab named Stanley, had a “huge appetite,” he said.

“I never used one treat.”

Stanley learned to turn on lights, walk off leash and stay right next to him, stop when he stopped, and was trained in all the basic obedience commands – all without the reward of food.

Martin and Cartwright are hoping to be able to provide veterans with free therapy and service dogs in the future, and Martin said she is looking forward to spending more time and focus on Napa Service Dogs.

Info: Napaservicesdogs.com, 858-337-8216.


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