Kaylie Nyman found a measure of stability and peace as being in the right place at the right time brought Viper into her life.
Nyman has suffered a series of physical and mental traumas since childhood, but with the help of an 11-year-old husky-border collie mix, he undergoes therapy dog training by his owner to manage his anxiety. -traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse recovery.
Viper has not only been a great companion for Nyman, but also a loving and protective member of his family.
Before Viper, life wasn’t easy for Nyman. As a child, he was hit on the side of the head and suffered severe injuries and traumas, damaging his hearing. He is also genetically predisposed to hearing loss. At the age of 12, he was shot while living in Neepawa. He also started using methamphetamine, but has been clean for about a year.
Lockouts and other personal tragedies make everyday life difficult for him.
“I used to go for a walk every day before COVID hit, then we got shut down,” she said. “Then my grandmother died and I was depressed. I closed; I didn’t even talk to my mother.”
He first met Viper in April when he was at the Brandon Friendship Center and a man walked in, let Viper out and called City Ordinance Animal Control to explain that he had to give Viper to Brandon because he had moved it and not returned it. for a moment.
“I said, ‘I’ll take her,’ and my apartment building is across the street and allows pets,” she said. “I got her vaccinations up to date and licensed. [him] through the city.”
Not long after he bought the Viper, Nyman said he noticed he was protective of it. It wasn’t in an aggressive way, but she would whine to get his attention when she was feeling sad or anxious, or when her husband was playfully teasing Viper, he would whine to stop him.
She would also push him to be more active, often nudging him and whining when he wouldn’t get out of bed.
“I have good days and bad days with depression, but it makes me go out,” she said. “He tells me it’s time to go out by nudging me.”
There was one incident where he saved her from a panic attack in public. He was out for a walk and heard the backfire of a car engine, which added to his concern as it sounded like a gunshot.
“He sensed it and started pulling me in [the apartment building] it was like he was saying, come on mom, we have to get away from this,” Nyman said. “He didn’t want to go to the toilet at night, he stayed with me because he knew I wasn’t in a good place.”
The pair were trained by their owner at Grasslands Canine Development with the help of trainer Aubrey Burgoyne.
On Thursday, the pair worked on the basics, such as avoiding distractions like eating and communicating through eye contact and hand signals. Burgoyne led the two through gentle exercises with his dog Franklin as a helper and another variable to teach Viper to focus. Together, the two walked past a small pile of food in the middle of the floor of the open area in the center. Every time Viper passed by without seeing food or Franklin, Nyman would reward him with a small treat.
Positive reinforcement is key to training, Burgoyne said, showing the dog that it’s helpful to listen and focus on both them and commands.
Viper had some trouble concentrating, but Burgoyne said it was because it was late in the day and he was probably tired and restless. He suggested that Nyman practice earlier in the day so that it would be easier to both work and be together.
Overall, he said, Viper and Nyman have been great at training. Burgoyne said he reached out to help with his training because he was watching them and Viper wasn’t easily distracted and was paying close attention to Nyman.
Once the basics are mastered, she said, they can move on to more advanced techniques such as deep pressure therapy, where the dog is encouraged to sit when the human shows signs of an anxiety attack and the dog lies on the body. The dog’s weight and warmth are calming, he said. It also helps to bring a person back to their current state and take them out of their stressful situation.
Owner-led therapy is very different from professional training, Burgoyne explained, because it places the onus of training on the person who will need the dog. Also, like the Viper, they are often dogs of different backgrounds and ages, as opposed to professional dogs that come from breeding programs focused on therapy training.
However, it is more affordable than buying a therapy dog from organizations like Wounded Warriors. According to the group’s website, it costs $15,000 to $18,000 to train a dog.
“These professional therapy dogs are great, but they’re expensive and they’re often chosen before they’re born,” she said. “It’s more convenient for that, but the dog has to have the right personality and there has to be a strong bond between the person and the dog.”
She can attest to how well owner-trained therapy dogs work, as Franklin is a therapy dog to help manage her Tourette’s. After receiving it, it became easier to manage his condition.
Regardless of their training, therapy dogs are working animals and need to focus on their humans, Burgoyne said, so it’s best not to distract them. This is a safety hazard for both the dog and the person, he said, because the dog must be ready to respond if the person shows signs of an episode. It can also tire the dog more quickly, making it harder for them to work consistently.
He gave Nyman a therapy dog vest for Viper to wear, but people still want to hunt Viper.
“People think you have to have a physical disability to need a service animal, but therapy dogs are also service animals,” she said.
Owning Viper gives Nyman more confidence in his life, and he’s already making long-term plans, including reuniting with his daughter from a previous relationship.
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