A look into the training and importance of dogs who spend their life helping people
For our August blog, I had the chance to collaborate with our good friend John Devine from the Rescue 22 Foundation, an organization that is changing veterans’ lives. Rescue 22 pairs rescued working breeds with veterans of the United States Armed Forces, and in some cases with those currently serving. With every veteran that receives a match from their organization, a K9 in need also gets a brand new start. Because working dogs are such a big part of IBVI, I wanted to dig a little deeper into what actually goes into training a dog to be more than just a loving and loyal companion.
Q: Hi John, can you talk about how you got into K9 training?
A: I originally got into K9 training through the Navy SEAL Multi-Purpose Canine (MPC) teams. It was there I learned from some of the best trainers in the world. I traveled all over the globe training with various units and deployed overseas to help support my brothers in the SEAL teams. My dog I deployed with is ranked among one of the best K9s in SEAL history as he is one of the longest deploying K9s to date, being operational for over seven years.
Q: What are the first steps you take when choosing a dog for the mission of helping our country’s veterans?
A: We have to screen them appropriately to know that the investment of training will be worthwhile. We put the dogs through a series of tests to ultimately decide if the dog has what it takes to even be considered. After the first series of tests, we continue to evaluate their trainability and if they are medically sound. It’s tough because we want to save every dog, but not every dog is meant to be a real service dog.
Q: How long does the process take and what does that process look like?
A: The process to completely train a service dog from nothing to fully mission ready varies with the complexity of each veteran. Each case is so unique and different. The average time would be six months to a year for most single task-based dogs and can increase with the additional tasks that are required to teach.
Q: What is the most extensive training you have had to teach?
A: Max Gross’s dog is the most complex service dog we have trained to date. The dog we are teaching needed to be a rock star as we are teaching enough tasks to equal that of four to five service dogs
*Note: On March 24, 2016, long-time athlete, adrenaline junkie and veteran Maximilian Gross’ life changed forever after suffering a spinal cord injury during a motor vehicle accident. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down, reliant on a ventilator and missing his old life. Many veterans and people with disabilities benefit from having a trained service dog by their side and Rescue 22 has been training a K9 to help Max live a more independent life. The dog will be trained to do things such as call 911 if his ventilator stops working, bring him objects like his mouth stylus pen and alert him if someone is in the house.
Q: Is there a favorite part of what you do?
A: Seeing the progress in dogs is the first part of what I love. The second part is seeing the difference these dogs make. People are often asking “how can you let these dogs go after spending so much time with them?”, I answer always by saying, seeing what these dogs do for someone else is what gives me my life’s purpose and continues to drive me to get better each day.
John Devine of Rescue 22 throwing a ball towards for a service dog in training.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I have my hands in a lot of places right now…..
I am the CEO and founder of Devine K9s, based out of Los Angeles, California. We specialize in behavior modification for all dogs that have problems, personal protection dogs for families that need a peace of mind as well as a dog that is trained to be a “capability, not a liability”, service dog training, trick training and tactical K9 consulting for Law Enforcement.
I’m a co-founder of The Rescue 22 Foundation, a nonprofit where we train service dogs for veterans with various disabilities to give them a more independent life.
I also have a workout program where I program workouts that you can do with your dog to increase the bond and relationship while you both stay fit.
But titles aside, most of my days are taken up with training dogs, training people to train dogs and running a business. I just flew back in from overseas where I was selecting dogs in the Netherlands for my personal protection dog program.
Q: What is the number one thing people should know about service dogs?
A: That putting a service dog label on them does not make them a service dog. There is so much misinformation out there about what a service dog really is. People out there faking service dogs don’t realize they are doing a disservice to the people who really need them, or they realize, but don’t care. Also, not every person wants to be the center of attention when they walk into a room with a service dog. When you see a service dog it is ok to politely ask someone about their dog, but no one has the right to be upset if someone politely declines to talk about their dog or declines an offer to have them get a pet.
Q: How can people help with Rescue 22’s mission?
A: Anyone can help by sharing our story of what we are doing! One of the struggles of any nonprofit is funding. Because we are new, we are still trying to get a foothold on funding so that we can help more veterans. It’s hard because lots of us in R22 have never been the type to ask people for anything, but every dollar represents more capabilities for us to help more veterans. I would advise someone looking to get involved in any nonprofit to ask how much of every dollar goes towards the actual veteran? Some of the “nonprofits” in the veteran landscape may surprise you.