Brigadoon dogs provide service for all

By Lezlie Wolff - Staff Reporter

Service dogs help people of all ages with problems, including veterans and their families, said a dog trainer at Highline last week.

The Student Veterans of America team invited Brigadoon Service Dogs trainer and founder Denise Costanten to give a presentation to the school's veterans on Thursday, Nov. 16.

"Brigadoon Service Dogs provide services for children and adults, hearing disabled, people with PTSD and traumatic brain injury," Costanten said.

Costanten's organization in Bellingham provides service dogs for wounded veterans and people with physical, developmental, and behavioral health disabilities, to promote a more independent and enriched life, she said.

Since August 2004, they have placed 65 service dogs, and established programs in schools for at-risk youth, Costanten said.

Trained dogs are $10,000 for civilians. For veterans, the service pays for the dog, she said.

They use only positive rewards in training, Costanten said.

She uses clicker training and said pressing the clicker is more immediate than voice praise and helps the dog to understand what it did correctly.

"Any breed can be trained with a clicker and positive training. It can do no harm to dogs," Costanten said.

"We teach the dog by using the dog's point of view," Costanten said, answering questions about training specifics.

The dogs are trained to nudge their human when they recognize an indicator behavior or smell, Costanten said.

"Dogs can smell when your blood sugar has dropped in diabetics," she said, for example.

She'd "heard stories about how vets' lives have changed [for the better] after having a service dog," she said.

The dog "helps in families; gives them a break from the difficulties," Costanten said.

She has seen the magic that the dogs do for people, she said.

There are considerations when choosing a dog for their program, Costanten said.

Sometimes they get donation dogs, she said.

"We look at the dog's temperament, because the dogs get bounced around a bit," she said.

The dogs have to be adaptable to changing environments and routines, as the dogs might go from Brigadoon training in Bellingham to a prison where the inmates continue the training, then back to training at Brigadoon, Costanten said.

The prison inmates are outstanding dog trainers, she said.

Brigadoon uses a variety of dog breeds, pure and mixed, as well as a variation of shapes and sizes, she said.

Costanten said she loves the short-coated Smooth Collie. The sensitive herding dog, she said, is very easy to train.

Dogs aren't the only students. People getting a dog get two weeks of training themselves, Costanten said.

That training is ongoing, she said. Brigadoon does regular training and health check-ups on the dogs that they place.

The people who have the dogs are expected to continue the training with the dog.

Dogs are very loyal, she said.

"You treat them right, they'll be there for you 24/7," Costanten said.

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