The dog training franchise’s charitable arm provides free service dog training for Veterans with physical and mental support needs.
With over 240 territories across multiple states, Dog Training Elite, the dog training franchise that supports local owners in taking control of their dog training journey, has made a great impact on families across the nation. While the franchise supports the average family in everyday training, it is also committed to supporting Veterans and their families in identifying and training a service dog to meet their needs.
“As a Veteran myself, I see incredible value in providing other servicemembers with the support they need to continue to lead a fulfilling life,” said Betsy Feaster, CEO of Dog Training Elite. “While Veterans are not the only population we support, there is a great need for service dogs in the Veteran community, and we’re proud to play a role in addressing that.”
Though there are nearly 5 million Veterans with disabilities associated with their service, many are unable to be paired with a service dog that can support them in military retirement. A trained service dog can cost thousands of dollars, and this is just the number associated with making the pairing. In many cases, the new handler is responsible for all dog-related costs, including food and veterinary care, for the rest of the dog’s life.
A resource as powerful as a service dog, which can literally be life-saving for Veterans, should not be so out of reach. This is where The Malinois Foundation comes into play. As the charitable arm of Dog Training Elite, The Malinois Foundation has placed 50 service dogs with people in need, including 32 Veterans, and has raised $300,000 to support the continuation of the mission.
Through The Malinois Foundation and its standard service dog training programs provided by local Dog Training Elite franchisees, the system has trained over 2,000 service dogs to address handlers’ mental and physical health needs, including PTSD, Autism, Anxiety, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and mobility.
Dog Training Elite Empowers New Handlers to Be Involved Throughout the Entire Process
Unlike other service dog organizations that assign a pre-trained dog to a given recipient, which is often a driver of the cost of a service dog, Dog Training Elite supports each person in need of a service dog throughout the entire process. The professionals provide guidance and expertise as the soon-to-be handler selects their puppy or dog based on temperament and allow the handler to be involved throughout the entire training process.
“Dog Training Elite is committed to involving the handler in all stages of the training and development process,” said Feaster. “This ensures that they feel empowered to communicate with their dog and move through the world as a true team, confidently addressing any social, emotional or physical needs that may arise.”
Handlers and their dogs move through life as a unit, and it’s important that each party knows what to expect of the other. With both the Veteran and a trainer involved in the selection process, a dog that is both compatible with the Veteran’s personality and support needs can be carefully chosen.
Once the dog is selected, training begins, and the Veteran continues to be involved. One of the key pillars of Dog Training Elite’s training model with the general public is to involve owners in the process so the dog knows who to look to for direction, and this value holds true in service dog training as well.
“Allowing the Veteran to be a key part of the training process helps ensure that the dog and handler know what to expect in their day-to-day from each other,” added Feaster. “It’s not just about training the dog and sending it home with the expectations that the owner and dog will both automatically know what to do. Our goal is to give the handler the knowledge of the training — the how and the why — so they can successfully communicate with their dog in a meaningful and effective way to help with their identified service issue.”
What the Opportunity Means to Franchisees
Many Dog Training Elite franchisees note the opportunity to support Veterans and other community members with unique medical needs in their journey to having a service dog as a key reason for their love for the brand. Whether they have a family member who has used a service dog or have retired colleagues who need service dogs, the opportunity to contribute to a cause close to their hearts draws local owners in.
Whitley Cheatham, owner of Dog Training Elite of San Antonio, is a prime example of this passion. Cheatham is a retired paramedic and leverages her ownership with Dog Training Elite to support Veterans; first responders; women survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and rape; and children with fragile medical needs with service dog training. This has been a major driver for her involvement with the brand.
“I want to continue to routinely give back. We donated seven dogs to Uvalde school shooting victims,” said Cheatham. “We’re also training diabetic alert dogs and allergen detection dogs.”
Why We Need Service Dogs
Service dogs play an incredible role in relieving stress, anxiety and depression, as well as empowering a handler to live a more independent life and feel confident doing the things they love with a supportive partner by their side.
For Veterans specifically, the reality of the consequences of their service can be especially harrowing. Around one-fourth of Veterans develop PTSD-related symptoms like nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks and social isolation. On average, 22 Veterans die by suicide each day, and the negative mental health impacts associated with PTSD can be addressed with the help of a service dog that knows how to ground their handler, prevent crowding and even support emotional regulation with early detection and pressure therapy.
“We are proud and fortunate to say that the majority of the Veterans who have applied for support through The Malinois Foundation have received the support they need,” said Feaster. “Having been matched with life-saving service dogs, they have all beaten these statistics and continue to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives.”