Junior Stephanie Shimer is a Steinbrenner student who works for the dog training business Inghram’s Sit ‘N Stay to train therapy and service dogs for the nonprofit organization Paws for Hope. Paws for Hope trains and donates service dogs to retired or active military veterans. Shimer has worked with over 50 people and a variety of dogs coming in for training and helping donate dogs to veterans in need.
The owner of Inghram’s Sit ‘N Stay and founder of Paws for Hope, Clarke Inghram, is a veteran himself and seeks to help others in need by providing canine assistance. Inghram has 48 years of dog training experience and worked as a Canine Instructor in the United States Air Force. He is very enthusiastic about Paws for Hope and has a deep passion for dog training and dog’s relationships with their owners.
“He’s pretty much just giving back to the community and he understands how devastating it can be for military veterans or for those injured,” said Shimer.
The service dogs are trained to notice the behavioral changes and body language of their owner and respond appropriately. Since each dog has their own personality and needs, training differs from dog to dog. However, it takes about two and a half to four weeks on average to train a dog.
“In the very beginning we pretty much, I don’t want to say baby the dogs, but we baby the dogs to kind of get them to do what we want, and teach them to do things like follow us on a loose leash, and just to be very well trained so that whoever gets them isn’t stressed about having a dog and it’s as easy as possible to make that transition,” said Shimer.
The dogs are taught to respond to body language, voice, and hand signals. Body language is part of the dogs natural training and plays a huge part how the dogs identify if there is an issue with their owner. Things like a change in scent or behavior signals to the dog to change their behavior in order to comfort or alert their owner.
“A lot of the veterans will ask why their dog is acting weird and we ask them if something happened right after that. Normally, they say yes and that is because the dog has recognized something is about to happen and is telling you, but that the only way they know how to tell you is to change their behavior,” said Shimer.
A common example of this is that a service dog will notice if its owner begins shaking without realizing it and will proceed to distract or comfort their owner. These service dogs and therapy dogs can be used for a range of issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and various physical and mental disabilities that many veterans will often experience after serving. Since dogs are friendly, intelligent, and willing to learn, they make perfect service animals that take very little effort to incorporate into a home.
“Everybody is different in their body language and if a dog has truly bonded with someone then they will be able to see that in their body language,” said Shimer.
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