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'Dog Whisperer' Cesar Millan helps veteran with PTSD, reveals how to calm stressed dogs

"Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan helps a veteran with PTSD train his dog to get along with his young son, and offers tips to calm stressed dogs.
/ Source: TODAY

When a U.S. Army veteran was having serious problems with his service dog potentially harming his toddler son, he knew just whom to call.

Animal training expert and "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan came to the rescue when Jay Kohne, a veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder, was looking to achieve harmony between his service dog, Kona, and his oldest son, Levi, 3, after Kona had been acting dangerously around the boy.

Their story is featured in the season finale of Millan's show, "Dog Nation,'' which airs on NatGeo Wild at 9 p.m. EDT on Friday.

Kohne and his wife, Wren, were worried they would have to get rid of Kona, an adopted greyhound boxer mix, for safety reasons after developing a close bond with him. The dog has helped Kohne, who was a medic in Afghanistan, by keeping him calm in public situations with crowds and other factors that can trigger anxiety.

"The truth is that as a father, (Kohne) wasn't setting rules and boundaries for his son,'' Millan told TODAY. "If you can teach a kid not to get near fire because he can get hurt, of course you can teach him not to touch an animal.

"Let's teach the kid to practice a different activity with the dog, like reading books, so that it creates a friendship."

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In Friday's episode, Millan also visits Washington, D.C., with his son, Andre, to meet with Rep. James McGovern and Elliot Russman, CEO of Fidelco Guide Dogs Foundation, to work on providing wounded military veterans with free service dogs. They also help a blind veteran receive a much-needed service dog.

Service dogs can be particularly effective for veterans like Kohne with PTSD.

"All the soldiers never tell you that they have PTSD with animals,'' Millan said. "They have them with people or situations."

A dog can naturally sense chemical changes in the body when a person may be experiencing the heightened stress from PTSD.

"The dog alerts the human before he has the PTSD moment, so then the human becomes grateful,'' Millan said. "That's when they think this dog really loves me because it cares about me. It's the instinctual things that dogs have that help people relax in times of stress."

The nonjudgmental nature of dogs also can help relieve PTSD symptoms.

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"The dog doesn't see the human having a handicapped moment or illness,'' Millan said. "That acceptance allows people to relax. If he has an episode, the dog is not going to make him feel weird. A dog allows you to feel however you want to feel and give you the support you need to relax."

While Friday's episode is focused on service dog owners in the military, the same tips from Millan often apply when it comes to civilians trying to calm a stressed dog. He offered some pointers for owners who may have stressed dogs.

1. It's not the dog, it's you.

"Never look at what the dog is doing, look at what the human is doing where the dog is not feeling comfortable,'' Millan said. "The dog is a reflection of the behavior of humans."

2. Set boundaries.

As Millan mentioned above, teaching young children about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to interacting with a dog can head off potentially dangerous situations.

3. Keep your dog active.

"Here in the United States, a dog doesn't become stressed because it lacks food or attention. What they miss is a good walk or to have a job,'' he said.

4. Give your dog a "job."

"A dog that works for a soldier with PTSD — that becomes his job,'' he said. "He's like a nurse 24/7 and it keeps him active and engaged. (For other dogs), most people walk with a dog, and the dog is treasure hunting, so the dog is all over the place, but that also makes the brain very excited."

5. Master the walk.

"The first thing I tell people is that you have to master the walk," said Millan. That means a delicate balance of maintaining control, but also being relaxed. "Two people who master the walk very well: people who are blind, the dog is next to them; and homeless people, the dog is behind them," he said. "Why can a homeless person walk a dog off the leash and my clients can't walk a dog on the leash?"

Millan recommends walking in front of the dog to establish that you're the leader, keeping your leash hand relaxed, and remaining calm and assertive.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.