To fully grasp the emotional power these dogs possess you need to understand human memory first. Ordinary memory can be placed in context and time and recalled with ease and little to no stress. Traumatic memory however, in order to protect us from overwhelming affect, is encoded in consciously inaccessible parts of our brain. Traumatic memory typically has no storyline, no beginning and no end. To make matters worse, traumatic memory is freely taken in and stored, but the person’s ability to rationalize the experience is compromised.
In PTSD, ordinary environmental cues such as sounds, sights, smells or textures are misinterpreted as danger of re-experiencing the traumatic exposure of the past. This in turn results in ‘false alarms,’ reactivated by external stimuli that lead to startle responses and flashbacks, ultimately feeding into hypervigilance, sleeplessness and social isolation. Similarly, survivor’s guilt and in particular moral injury are deeply ingrained in the subconscious and potentiate the effects of PTSD.
The aim of post-traumatic intervention is to shift memories to where there is conscious awareness and appropriate processing. However, in PTSD the different brain regions tasked with survival, memory and executive functioning refuse to communicate effectively with each other. That’s why it is practically impossible to talk someone out of PTSD. When the problem lies in the subconscious, effective access is best gained via subconscious processes. And this is where our dogs come on stage.
We enhance and harness this power and emotional intelligence by training our dogs to intercept flashbacks and nightmares. At the same time, much of our Veterans’ communication with their dogs actually takes place on a subconscious level. To become the desired force multiplier, the Veteran-K9 bond needs to be moved from the typical ‘owner-pet’ situation to allow forging a true partnership.
This is facilitated by our police K9 trainers who deploy the same techniques in our program that allows them to rely on their K9s with their lives while working the streets. Over time, this human-canine bond and interaction gradually and permanently moves the alarm gauge in our Veterans into a position that makes life manageable and worth living. In addition, our K9s serve as a social buffer between recipient and public, again on the subconscious level, decreasing the level of hypervigilance in everyday life.
Completing the benefits package are specific tasks these dogs are individually trained to perform for their Veteran. These tasks are highly specific to each recipient and are tailored and fine-tuned according to the needs of the recipient. More than anything, our team restores hope.