JERUSALEM—For the first time, young people with disabilities will be qualified to serve in the Israeli Army working with dogs.
At the end of their lengthy training, 20 young people with special needs have just concluded their training course with a presentation of the trained skills of the dogs up to performing a full independent exercise.
The training is part of “Special in Uniform” (SIU), a signature program of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which integrates Israeli youths with disabilities—mental and / or physical—into the IDF to serve alongside their fellow countrymen and women.
A proud partner of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), “Special in Uniform” is working toward its goal to “ensure that the army is a place for everyone.”
A distinctive aspect of SIU is that it pairs the soldiers with positions, units, and commanders to ensure that their service is meaningful and effective. This includes identifying appropriate positions for each soldier so that they can excel in their tasks and have a sense of belonging. Throughout their service, “Special in Uniform” soldiers receive life-skill lessons and are provided with career assistance and placement to ensure a smoother transition into civilian life.
Amir, a young adult with a diagnosis of high-functioning autism is one of the program participants “the program initially, was an unlikely fit. I actually hated dogs. I was really scared of them, and I never had a dog. But I knew this will be good opportunity for me overcome my fear of dogs and to serve in the Israel Air Force’s dog program. Air Force needs dogs because its bases are a highly desirable target for a terrorist attack, as well as for simple robbers. I really wanted to go for it,” he said.
“The relationship between the soldiers and the dogs is amazing.” said Kobi Malca, program director in “Special in Uniform”.
“The dog is a communicative animal. It reacts, and it accepts us as we are. The ability to direct a dog using dog-training language contributes to enhancing self-assurance and creates a source of motivation for activities. It enables setting and accepting boundaries, develops tolerance, and develops the ability to accept others, and feel empathy towards others.”
The course participants developed the attitude and ability to treat dogs, directing a dog, operating dog kennels, cleaning, feeding, and maintaining open space. The program is conducted in an inclusive, systematic, and tolerant way. All the content was adapted in advance by preparing a profile of the young persons, together with their instructors.
Each subject has been taught in a formal way, integrating simple theory, and made accessible by defining time-frames of a maximum of 15 to 30-minute modules at every learning session.
The young people practice these tools systematically every week until they achieve full independence as much as possible in logistical activities.
With the completion of the course, the new participants will now be stationed in different Army and police bases, working with guard-dogs, detection dogs, and search and rescue dogs.