Giving Back

Paws for Purple Hearts builds on the time-honored tradition of Veterans assisting other Veterans. It helps heal our returning combat Veterans by teaching those with psychological scars, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to train service dogs for their comrades with combat-related injuries.

Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) is the first program of its kind to offer therapeutic intervention for Veterans and active-duty military personnel by teaching those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to train service dogs for their comrades with combat-related injuries. PPH is built upon the trusted and time-honored tradition of Veterans helping Veterans.

Founded in 2008 as a program of Bergin University of Canine Studies, the pilot PPH program at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, California, continues serving Veterans today. PPH initiated and trained staff to operate canine therapeutic programs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Maryland), the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (Maryland), and Fort Belvoir (Virginia). These programs have changed the lives of many Veterans struggling with PTSD. The PPH program has been requested at several other sites.

Under the guidance of PPH instructors, service members engage with specially-bred Golden and Labrador Retriever puppies. Together they undergo an intensive 18-to-24-month service dog training regimen—learning more than 90 commands–while the veterans reintegrate into civilian life. Once training is complete, the service dogs are given to veterans who have sustained mobility-limiting injuries. These service dogs reside for the rest of their lives with their new owners.

Since PPH’s inception, service dog training and connections have directly impacted hundreds of veterans’ lives.
Paws for Purple Hearts is a powerful therapeutic intervention for those suffering the effects of PTSD unresolved by conventional treatments. For the men and women suffering from PTSD, the process of training the puppies results in therapeutic benefits which can include:

• less anxiety and depression,
• increased patience, impulse control, emotional regulation
• improved sleep
• decreased dependence upon pain medications
• greater sociability and a more positive outlook
• a mission-driven focus and renewed sense of purpose
• a decrease in emotional numbness
• decreased startle responses
• improved parenting skills and family dynamics

The benefits extend well beyond the PPH Veteran trainers. The service dogs trained in the PPH program are partnered with service members with combat-related disabilities at no cost, providing a new steadfast companion and a true partner. PPH dogs provide independence and security as they perform tasks like tugging open doors, switching on and off lights, and picking up dropped items. And the dogs? They benefit from the loving homes and positive reinforcement received for playing such important roles in the well-being of their owners. If you are interested in requesting a service dog, please contact Bergin University’s dog program manager at
The Paws for Purple Hearts program embodies our motto: Veterans helping Veterans.