UNT students help train service dogs for veterans

UNT students train dogs to comfort veterans

DENTON - Behavioral analysis students at the University of North Texas are taking dogs with minor behavioral issues and working to combat them, so the dogs can become successful service dogs for veterans.

It was just a few short months ago, where situations having lots of strangers and lots of action would have scared Drill Bit, a two-year-old yellow lab.

"He was just fearful and uncertain about new situations," explained Jessica Winne, who's been training him.

That was an issue, because Drill Bit is training to become a military service dog through Patriot Paws, an organization in Rockwall, that provides veterans with service dogs at no cost to them.

After seven months of intensive training, Drill Bit is back on the straight and narrow. His future as a service dog is no longer in jeopardy.

"He's made a lot of progress and doing really well," said Mary Hunter, who's also been training the dog.

Drill Bit's progress is the product of a new partnership between Patriot Paws and behavioral analysis students at the University of North Texas. 

"We've been taking some of the Patriot Paws dogs who may have developed minor behavioral issues," said Hunter, who's also a volunteer and an adjunct professor at UNT.

The students are then able to assess the behavior of the dog and come up with a training plan. It's a huge help to Patriot Paws, says Cheryl Woolnough, who works with the organization. Patriot Paws has placed 120 dogs with veterans since its inception in 2005.

"We wanted to make him more confident, so he could serve his vet in the best way possible," said Winne, who's a graduate student in behavioral analysis.

Winne and Alyssa Schmidt were among the students who trained Drill Bit, using positive reinforcement only. This is the second dog UNT students have trained. They're part of an organization called ORCA, which stands for the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals.

"As Drill Bit's learning, I'm learning too," says Schmidt, who wants to train service dogs as a career. "And so it's a really rewarding experience, to be able to learn, but also in a way that'll help someone in the future."

And now one more veteran will get help, thanks to the help of these students trained Drill Bit.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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