(58) Just Like a Puppy: Retraining the service dog

Molly, the service dog


Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)

One Step at a Time  

Molly ages in front of our eyes. She moves slowly, we believe because of the cold and hurting joints. We discovered Miss Molly’s joint problem for the first time a couple of weeks after she came to work for William. We believe her joint pain keeps her from enjoying the snow and causing her to do her business on our carpet instead of under a pine tree. Molly’s behavior requires retraining in basic tasks and commands. Her remedial retraining reminds me of training a puppy from the beginning—one step at a time. Her retraining moves more slowly than the small hand on a grandfather’s clock.

Retraining the Human 

People need retraining, too. I am a perfect example. I whined to William that my writing career stalls more than it moves forward.

“I want to finish my novels. I want to publish. I can’t find the time when I’m blogging, taking care of the house, doing laundry. . .” The list of reasons for my failure goes on.

“Have you harvested the wheat?”

I look at him and shake my head. Bewildered but curious, I said, “huh?”

“Have you even cleared the rocks, plowed the field, planted the seeds, and watered the field? Have you cleaned the thrashing floor and thrashed the wheat?” He smiles because he knows I’m getting the message. “First you have to learn to write and that’s what the blogging teaches you.”

I got the message. I wanted to snap my fingers and claim a successful writing career. I should know enough from working in management that it takes one step at a time to build the skills to be successful. In my case, it requires retraining because my ability stopped with local government management and teaching. I am learning an entirely new set of skills and need retraining from writing passively to writing actively. It feels like I am learning to walk all over again.

When Losing Everything 

Yesterday I met a young soldier from Fort Carson. I asked him what work he does for the military.

“Explosives, ma’am.” He hesitated. “I take apart explosive devices.”

I wanted to drop to the floor and grab his feet. No. You can’t possibly do this. What about the danger? He showed no fear only confidence despite his youth.

“Be safe, please be safe.” Those were the only words I could muster.

I have seen so many young men and women return from war harmed by explosive devices, affected by toxic exposure, or changed forever by PTSD. As they deal with their injuries, it strikes me that they must begin life anew. Often they must relearn the basics such as walking, speaking, and even thinking. They restart life as a child—just as Molly must relearn as a puppy or I must relearn writing to be an author.

No Instant Fixes

My husband’s journey has taken him 48 years to relearn how to live in society with PTSD and his physical disabilities. After each victory, he is stricken with another malady. He fights through each one and learns to manage the problem. There are no easy fixes for any of them. It is a life-long struggle. This is life—with or without PTSD, TBI, or any other disability.

Whether we must relearn the basics such as walking or talking or learn new skills for a change in careers, life will always demand from us more than we think we can give. We always go back to the beginning so we can be better at being ourselves. Even though it seems as though we are moving backwards, we always move forward. We progress and become someone remarkably new.

One day, no matter how remedial our training seems, a transformation occurs and we walk again and stand confident like the young man I met, who disarms explosives.

Molly’s Relearning

As we watch Molly regress, we work with her to strengthen thoseMolly and William with fur everywhere areas needing retraining. If she becomes unable to do what William needs in a service dog, we will accept her limitations and one day let her retire. We will always love her and accept her for what she can do and for who she is—even if she drools and leaves wooly fur blobs all over the house.

 . . . We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 NKJV

Post your Comments: 

Have you had to relearn a basic skill or be trained in new skills as an adult? What was your biggest challenge in learning or retraining? Please comment below.

 Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.