For centuries, dogs have been called “man’s best friend.” But for those suffering from PTSD, Autism, MS, Parkinson’s, and neurocognitive diseases, a service dog is far more than a companion… Diane’s special guest experts this week—Master Trainer- Frank Pugliese and Bella the Service dog talk about the amazing roles Service and Therapy dogs play in the lives of their owners.

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Parents Are Hard To Raise S02 E68 Transcripts

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[00:01:09] Welcome to Parents Are Hard to Raise… Helping families grow older together without losing their minds. I’m Eldercare Expert Diane Berardi.

Diane: [00:01:18] So I have two very special guests in the studio today. Frank Pugliese, who’s a dog trainer who specializes in behavior modification. And Bella The Dog, who is here now… The dog Bella. She’s chewing on a treat.

[00:01:36] So Frank, was Bella and one of the dogs that you trained?

Frank Pugliese: [00:01:42] That’s correct. Bella was left in a shopping cart when she was 4 months old at a Pet Smart adoption event.

[00:01:48] And she was moved to a different fosters where she developed food aggression. We got hired… My company Behavior Plus got hired… To help Bella overcome her food aggression. In the foster home it was difficult to do so I took her home to my house to work with her and that was six years ago. Bella never left.

Diane: [00:02:04] So she. Like, if you put food out…

Frank Pugliese: [00:02:08] If you put a bowl of food down for Bella you couldn’t get within 15 feet of her.

Diane: [00:02:11] Oh wow.

Frank Pugliese: [00:02:12] You came anywhere near or she would come after you. Now we were sharing french fries before in the other room.

Diane: [00:02:21] So how did you get into this field… Training dogs doing training?

Frank Pugliese: [00:02:26] I got into this field because my daughter brought home a pit bull puppy she found climbing out of a dumpster. We brought him home he was supposed to spend just a few days and a couple of days later his name was Louie and he wasn’t leaving or going anywhere. In the few weeks after that. Louie Bit broke my neighbor’s finger. My neighbor insisted that the dog not be put down, but be rehabilitated.

[00:02:46] I couldn’t find anyone in New Jersey who was willing to work with me. So I ended up hooking up with some rescue organizations and they assisted me in classrooms and seminars and some practical experience and got me working and we started working with Louie. And one thing led to another… The next thing we did was we were starting to train. Now we’re a business. We’ve been training now for over 15 years. And I’ve got over 15000 documented hours with aggressive dogs.

Diane: [00:03:10] Really. Wow. Now we we were talking before the show… So a lot of times I guess what you were saying is it’s it’s not the dog it’s…

Frank Pugliese: [00:03:22] It’s not the dog it’s the human. And you really need to match the dog with the human. You know, and that’s kind of sometimes where we get caught, because we get brought into people who have adopted either a pit bull puppy or they went to the shelter and they rescued what was just a cute dog but they didn’t realize the type of breed they actually brought home. And now they’re there…

[00:03:42] It happens quite often with elderly couples, where they go and they get a puppy or somebody figures they’re doing something nice by giving them a German shepherd puppy or a Swiss mountain dog puppy to the 75 year old grandmother. And now she has to walk this beast and it’s not as simple as it sounds.

[00:03:59] These dogs require a tremendous amount of exercise. A tremendous amount of energy. And sometimes if we just take a little time to rethink what we’re doing we could match the dog right with the homeowner. OK.

[00:04:11] There’s plenty of elderly dogs in the shelters that would make wonderful companion pets, that just kind of like to lie around them you know need a daily walk but nothing’s nothing substantial. But you bring home a pitbull puppy and at eight months is dog. It needs to run needs to work.

Diane: [00:04:25] So we so people could call your office and say, I’m thinking of getting my mom a dog or…

Frank Pugliese: [00:04:36] Absolutely. Absolutely. They contacted our office we would end to direct them in the right direction. We would send them to several shelters where they maintain older dogs. Which gives them the opportunity to pick adult is more compatible. With their family member and how active and stuff like that. A lot of times people don’t go through the thought process of getting a dog. It’s cute in the pet shop.

[00:04:56] Right and people do that. Yeah, they get I guess a puppy, as opposed to an older dog not thinking…

[00:05:03] Well… Not thinking. They think they’re doing the right thing because they want the dog to be around for a while.

[00:05:07] But in essence you have to raise that puppy And that puppy requires a lot of attention at the beginning and. And even though older people do it to themselves with the they call us to help them because they went and got a puppy and they’re saying I’ve had puppies before.

[00:05:22] But you’re 60 now. The last time you had a puppy when you were 40. You know in the time before that you didn’t have any children. You were 20. So is it. And they look back and they go oh yeah that’s right. Now you’re 60 you’re in your 60s and this dog requires the same amount of exercise as it did when you were 40 and you don’t just can’t do it anymore right. So it’s a difficult… Picking the right dog for it for an elderly or for seniors difficult. But not impossible. Just take your time. There’s Plenty of dogs out there.

Diane: [00:05:51] Would you suggest certain breeds?

Frank Pugliese: [00:05:54] Any breed will work. It really will. If you find the right temperament in that breed. We don’t get breed specific. Behavior plus it’s not turn any dog away. That is our Logo. We don’t turn any dog away based on breed or temperament or anything. No dog is ever turned away. And it because we feel that every dog has an opportunity or at least deserves an opportunity.

Diane: [00:06:13] Right. Right. It’s great for the elderly person. It’s great for the elderly dog. Because in the shelters you’ll find…

Frank Pugliese: [00:06:20] A lot of people will dump the dog in a shelter when it becomes too old. Or when it becomes slowed down.

[00:06:28] Or slightly ill. And those dogs make great companion dogs for several years.

Diane: [00:06:35] Sure yeah.

Frank Pugliese: [00:06:36] To seniors that don’t need a lot of attention, that don’t need a lot of work. But they’re never never given even some of the shelters don’t present them the correct way. You know so you need to go looking for them.

Diane: [00:06:49] So… Now This if someone went to a shelter and said you know I’m…they Pick an elder an elderly dog, I guess you know to bring to their mom, what they call you when you would see if….

Bella the Dog: [00:07:00] [squeeking her toy].

Frank Pugliese: [00:07:00] If they wanted to call us and have us have us helped them acclimate the dog to the home we’d be more than happy to do that. That’s what we do.

[00:07:06] Yes. We have trainers that will do specifically that… Specifically in dealing with the elderly.

Bella the Dog: [00:07:13] [squeek, squeek, squeek].

Diane: [00:07:13] That’s the squeek toy.

Frank Pugliese: [00:07:13] Yeah yeah. Just given her a squeaker but..

Diane: [00:07:17] That’s ok.

[00:07:20] Yeah because you find then people get a dog and they just kind of bring it home and don’t don’t do anything with it…

Frank Pugliese: [00:07:28] Well, they don’t understand the needs and the balances of the dog. And you have to satisfy both the animal needs and the dog needs before you can consider the breed.

[00:07:36] So each one of those is a different level. A different structure.

Diane: [00:07:40] And you were talking about dogs… That they’re the only animal capable of bonding?

Frank Pugliese: [00:07:46] When you look at animals in the wild. The only dog, the only animal that actually bonds with a human, naturally, is the dog.

[00:07:55] So it’s not natural for a dog to bite a human. It’s not natural for a dog to fear a human. Alright?

[00:08:01] So anything like that is the dog fighting Mother Nature or something traumatic happened that makes the dog fight Mother Nature. And that’s a battle the dog won’t win if rehabilitated correctly.

[00:08:11] So when you look at an animal like a dog, you have to remember it’s still an animal. But it has an innate ability to bond with a human, which no other animal does. And that’s what separates it from the other animals.

Diane: [00:08:25] And what happens a lot of times is people… We kind of, you know, with the dog we say “oh my baby” or we have…

Frank Pugliese: [00:08:33] We humanize it. Yes yes. We come home and we want to go “oh, my little baby… how was your day today? Did you have a good day?” And we go through that whole ritual every time we come home. And we humanize this dog, and we turn his dog into a child. But it’s still an animal, right. And if you remember that, and you keep that in mind, then your relationship with the dog is a lot easier. And a lot less stressful. It’s when you lose that, and you start to give out things so the dog for free…

[00:09:01] Because a dog’s job is to work. It works for everything. In the wild, the dog would be working for everything. It would be working for food, be working for a place to sleep, and be working for time to travel… The dog would be working for everything. So why would we bring it home and just give it things? It’s not natural for the dog just to get things. That’s not a natural state for the dog. It needs to work for a living. It needs to work for affection.

Diane: [00:09:25] Right.

Frank Pugliese: [00:09:25] So…When We give a dog unearned affection, we appear, in the dog’s eyes, to be weak. And how can you take care of me if you are weak?

Diane: [00:09:33] Interesting. Right. I didn’t even realize that. You know, that a dog… That they need to work.

Frank Pugliese: [00:09:40] They need to work. And so, even if you get a dog for a senior, working could be hanging out with the senior so the senior pets them. That’s Work. In the dog’s world… It’s a great job. But that’s work.

[00:09:56] You know, just telling a dog to sit before he can come up on the couch is work.

[00:10:02] Little things like that make the dog earn everything the dog gets. And that in turn keeps the dog in its place.

[00:10:08] And honestly the dog does not want the keys to the store. It wants to be at the bottom. It’s the cart kid. It wants to pick up the carts. It wants to do the labor. It doesn’t want to be in charge of anything. It wants to be below the goldfish.

Diane: [00:10:21] And we don’t realize that…

Frank Pugliese: [00:10:22] And We don’t realize that. Because they’re so cute. And we come home and they run up to us and they greet us. And we say that’s all wonderful look the dog loves me and we humanize it. You know and that’s that’s that’s good at some extent. But bad in others. Always remember its an animal.

Diane: [00:10:38] Yeah you know, sometimes like I go into a home to see a client and you hear this dog barking, barking, barking. You know. And then the person opens the door and says wait for the dog away. And they throw the dog in the room or the dog is sitting there you know and it’s groundling at me. And I’m like, oh my god…

Frank Pugliese: [00:10:58] That’s because in the United States, especially, dogs are treated like humans. And the one thing about the U.S. is that people will spend thousands of hours teaching a dog agility or tricks. But they won’t spend any time teaching it how to answer the door.

Diane: [00:11:15] You’re right.

Frank Pugliese: [00:11:16] Because nobody comes to the door but the pizza guy or relatives. So the honesty is that they don’t spend that much time worrying about it. That’s something that really needs to be addressed. And if you do it the right way you can teach the dog to let anybody in.

Diane: [00:11:31] And when we come back we’re with Frank Pugliese, dog trainer and Bella.

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Announcer: [00:13:45] You’re listening to Parents Are Hard to Raise… Now, thanks to you…the Number one eldercare talkshow on planet earth.

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Diane: [00:14:10] I want to thank our listeners in Madison, Wisconsin. Fort Wayne. Indiana. Columbus, Georgia. Opelika, Alabama and Pretoria, South Africa. Welcome everyone and we’re so glad you’re listening.

[00:14:26] So I’m here with Frank Pugliese, dog trainer. He specializes in behavior modification and Bella.

[00:14:33] And Frank we had started to talk about… You train dogs for therapy dogs, emotional support dogs and service dogs. Could you explain the difference.

Frank Pugliese: [00:14:44] Sure. A therapy dog is a dog that is kind of the dog you take to the hospital, the dog that you take to the scene your residence, the dog that comes and visits children. It’s a dog that people get to pet and makes them feel better. That’s a that’s a therapy dog. That’s a function of a therapy dog.

[00:15:01] An emotional support dog would be your dog. And taking your dog into different places that make you nervous, make you feel better. Make them feel comfortable.

[00:15:08] And psychologists and psychiatrists doctors have prescribed dogs to stay with individuals just to help comfort them. Just to give them something to hold on to. That’s an emotional support dog.

[00:15:19] A service dog performs a specific service. It’s a dog that’s been trained to fill a gap for someone with a disability. Someone who can’t perform a specific service.

[00:15:29] I can give you an example of a service dog we trained for an elderly woman, because she would forget to take her medication. And she needed to take her pill every night at 9:00.

[00:15:39] So we taught the dog, who now wears a Casio watch on its collar. And at 9:00 the Casio watch goes off and the dog jumps on the woman and she opens the little pill box and she remembers it taking medication.

Diane: [00:15:51] Wow.

Frank Pugliese: [00:15:51] So it doesn’t matter where a dog is in the House or where a woman is, at 9:00 when that beep goes off, the dog finds her and delivers her medication.

[00:15:59] So that’s a service dog. Is just performing a specific service for that individual.

[00:16:05] Wow. That is fantastic. I mean, there’s so many patients who need that. Oh my gosh. To be you know…

Frank Pugliese: [00:16:11] And the dog also provides companionship and comfort and everything else that a dog provides. .

Diane: [00:16:16] I think about dementia patients with dogs because, first of all, they love to hold…

Bella the Dog: [00:16:26] Squeek, squeek, squeek, squeek, squeek squeek, squeek…

Diane: [00:16:30] [laughing] That’s Bella.. squeeking the toy. And I wonder, you know, I guess a dog can be trained as a service dog maybe to live with a dementia patient?

Frank Pugliese: [00:16:40] Depending on the disability. Yes. The dog can be trained if it’s possible for the individual to be able to care for the dog. The dog can be trained to help comfort, or relieve the stress or the anxiety.

[00:16:52] For a lot of veterans with post-traumatic stress… We train service dogs to help them interfere with the…what would be considered– not a seizure– could be a flashback. It could be a stressful event. An individual sitting in a room can all of a sudden become extremely anxious over the fact that there were so many people in the room. And the dog will go up and nudge and interfere with that anxiety. And then get petted. Petting a dog produces serotonin. And that relaxes the human. So it can actually interfere or even cut off the anxiety attack before the individual even knows he’s having it. So, a properly trained service dog can interfere with that. And that’s why we train the dogs for the veterans with PTSD. It helps them get through their day.

Diane: [00:17:36] You know when I’m thinking… Even like a dementia patient, if they can care for the dog. I mean, you could teach the dog to wake up the patient?

Frank Pugliese: [00:17:44] Absolutely.

Diane: [00:17:47] To remember, I guess, where their clothes are?

Frank Pugliese: [00:17:50] Well, the dog would be able to help them in certain aspects. But you have to keep in mind a specific tasks… Each one of those tasks is a pairing with what the dog is supposed to do.

[00:18:00] So let’s say if the alarm goes off, the dog wakes the person up. The dog can’t really guide the person through the home. As much as the dog could remind the individual that they need to be in a specific area like over towards the closet.

[00:18:15] Okay perfect. OK…

[00:18:17] So they could then remember to get their clothes or something like that.

[00:18:20] But there are limitations to what the dog can do. But given enough time and effort, the dog can perform a tremendous amount of tasks. Or at least guide the individual to help them perform those tasks. And that would be considered a service dog.

Diane: [00:18:34] That’s fantastic. Now… So do you… I guess you go into shelters?

Frank Pugliese: [00:18:41] The dogs that we work with now… Currently we have a volunteer service dog program with a shelter in New York State called Hi Tor animal care center.

[00:18:49] And that volunteer program… We pull dogs from the shelter and we train them to become service dogs. And then we pair them with veterans who need a dog. And that is done at no charge to the veteran.

Diane: [00:19:04] That’s fantastic. And I guess when you look at a dog… What does it take to be a service dog? What do you look at?

Frank Pugliese: [00:19:12] Well, we’re looking at temperament. We want to make sure the dog is somewhat relaxed in every situation and every environment. And we use our dogs… I maintain a pack I have my own pack of nine dogs… I use our dog to test the dog, to make sure that this dog will actually ignore everything that’s going on around it, and focus on the handler.

[00:19:31] And then, from there, depending on what the dog’s natural abilities are, that will be discussed with what the handler would need.

[00:19:37] So, let’s say a dog is really really good… It has a really good nose. Like we currently have a dog now that we’re training as a service dog to help detect hypoglycemia. The dog has a very very good nose. And the veteran suffers from diabetes. So the dog can actually detect when her blood sugar is low.

Diane: [00:19:57] Wow.

Frank Pugliese: [00:19:58] So we’re training the dog to work with her, so that she can be placed with her. As her service dog.

Diane: [00:20:04] Wow. It’s fantastic. What you’re doing.

[00:20:09] And you started to tell me, and then we went to break, about your son. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Frank Pugliese: [00:20:15] Bella. Here… Is actually, she was actually came in as a client. Ended up staying. And became my son’s service dog. My son suffered a traumatic brain injury playing college football and Bella became his support. Not only did Bella provide emotional support, my son would have what was known as micro seizures and would fall down.

[00:20:35] Bella was able to detect those seizures before we were even before he knew they were going to happen, so she could guide him over to a corner or someplace, or a chair, before he would fall down.

[00:20:45] She was also able to… She was taught to help him up. So Bella, at 65 pounds. She’s a pit mix, and she can stand very stiff and solid, allowing my son to push down on her to help get up.

[00:20:59] She can lead him in and out of the stores and she reminds him to turn things off on the stove every now and then.

Diane: [00:21:04] It’s fantastic. It’s amazing what we can do with…

Frank Pugliese: [00:21:10] It’s amazing what they can do. And we’re only scratching the surface. A dog is not really a very studied animal, so people don’t know that much about them because they just have them. They’re just there.

Diane: [00:21:20] You’re right.

[00:21:22] “Yeah. I always had a dog.”.

Diane: [00:21:23] Right. It’s just there.

Frank Pugliese: [00:21:25] It’s just there.

Diane: [00:21:26] I always see people… I either see people like. It’s their “baby” you know…

Frank Pugliese: [00:21:30] Well, that’s most dogs. Especially United States. “Their baby,” you know. And that’s in the United States. In every other country in the world they’re animals. You know and in some countries there lunch.

[00:21:41] It is a consideration that you have to keep in mind. But here in the United States they’re pampered. And that’s that’s the United States has as many problems, and as many instances of dog bites and everything they have, because they’re not treated like animals. And the dog just requires structure.

[00:21:58] Give it a structured environment. Give it some rules and boundaries. And you’ll end up with a very balanced, relaxed dog.

Diane: [00:22:04] So the dog wants structure and balance?

Frank Pugliese: [00:22:06] Absolutely. It’s constantly seeking for structure. And it’s looking for someone to tell him what to do. In their world, in a dog’s world, the dog’s primary function in their life is to wait. To wait until the pack leader tells them what to do.

[00:22:20] We’re going to hunt. We’re going to travel. We’re going to sleep. All of those decisions are made by the pack leader. So the dogs primary function in life is to wait. So you as a human if you take the role of the pack leader, and you exercise the dog to drain the energy, structure the dog world to discipline to tell them when it’s supposed to move or when it’s not, it will fall back into its natural, primary function, and wait. Which is what Bella is doing right now. Just waiting.

Diane: [00:22:50] She’s just waiting.

Frank Pugliese: [00:22:52] She’s waiting for the next command. And that’s her job.

Diane: [00:22:56] It’s amazing. I know.

Frank Pugliese: [00:22:58] So we don’t look at dogs that way. And we don’t train them that way. And we don’t teach them that way… Because we want to see the happy thing that you see on TV that’s running across the screen and chasing the stick and swimming in the lake. But we don’t look at the dog from just being a dog, whose primary function is to do whatever you tell it.

Diane: [00:23:17] And the other thing I see I guess with dogs is, the dog is just there. You know it’s a family and the kids… And the dog is just there. No one pays attention to it.

Frank Pugliese: [00:23:27] No they don’t. Until something’s wrong. And then there’s a problem. But the problems stem from the fact that you didn’t pay attention to the dog to begin with.

[00:23:36] Because the dog itself doesn’t make a decision to buy a human. That decision is brought on somewhere along the line from the human. You know, and then that’ll trigger the dog to bite.

[00:23:45] I mean think about it this way what would make a dog feel so stressed, so upset, so scared, that it feels it’s only option is to bite?

[00:23:54] So somewhere along the line, signs and symbols are coming out and the human didn’t pay any attention.

[00:23:59] What we do, when we come in, is we teach you what to look for. So we rehabilitate, we rehabilitate teaching you… This is what you’re looking for. These are the signs the dogs will show. This is how it’s going to work. And it doesn’t matter about the breed. It doesn’t matter about the size. The species is the species, and this is what it does.

Diane: [00:24:19] So if you have a dog that I guess someone called you because it bit someone… do you you take it out of it’s environment?

Frank Pugliese: [00:24:27] No. We rehabilitate it in the environment for which the problem… Yeah. But will change the environment.

[00:24:33] We figure something in the environment is making the dog react the way it is. Environment plus a stimuli equals a reaction. So what was the environment like? What was the stimuli that brought this dog to that reaction?

[00:24:46] So let’s see if… Can we change the stimuli? Or can we train the dog to do a different reaction when it has the stimuli? So when it gets scared, can I teach it just to leave, as opposed to bite? As… Walk away.

[00:25:01] So we can give the dog another option. We can give you another choice. And then we make that choice to repetition, the only choice.

Diane: [00:25:10] Because I was going to say, how do you know then that the dog will be OK?

Frank Pugliese: [00:25:14] Well use Bella as an example. Bella was food aggressive. So we made it… We used to feed Bella almost 15 times a day, to get the repetitions… on to be excited. Not to be excited. When the food came.

[00:25:27] So over and over and over and over… Until she became relaxed enough for us to place the bowl down. That allowed us, then, to do the next step which would be to take the bowl away. And Bella became relaxed enough where we could put the bowl down and picked the bowl up, and put the bowl down and picked the bowl up. So Bella found out that the only way for me to put the bowl down was to be relaxed and the only way to get it back is to stay relaxed. Because if she grabbed or displayed aggression, the bowl would leave. So it’s through repetition that we learned this is how I react.

Diane: [00:26:02] It’s amazing what you can do. I encourage people to get… For their parents, if they’re lonely, you know they live alone. I encourage them to get a dog.

Frank Pugliese: [00:26:15] A dog is an excellent companion. Especially for an elderly person that needs to get out. It gives them an excuse. It forces them to go out. Even if it’s just down to the end of the block and back.

Diane: [00:26:26] Right.

[00:26:27] With a dog, you need to get out. It takes up a part of the day. It gives the individual someone to talk. It gives the individual someone to tell your secrets to, that they’ll never tell them to anyone else.

Diane: [00:26:38] That’s right.

Frank Pugliese: [00:26:39] For an elderly person, a properly Matched dog can be a real real advantage.

Diane: [00:26:44] Well this was great. You know how I love dogs.

[00:26:48] Frank, tell us how people can reach you.

[00:26:52] We’re in New Jersey you can reach us at And you can visit our Web site at

Diane: [00:26:58] And…You Travel.

Frank Pugliese: [00:27:00] We travel up and down the East Coast.

Diane: [00:27:02] Fantastic.

[00:27:04] I hope this episode helped you with something you may be dealing with at this moment. Please keep emailing your questions and comments, and share as much detail as you can. Because listeners, just like you, come here each week for insight and inspiration and your story can also help someone else. Please keep emailing me at or just click the green button on our home page.

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[00:27:45] Parents Are Hard to Raise is a CounterThink Media production. The music used in this broadcast was managed by Cosmo Music, New York, New York.

[00:27:52] Our New York producer is Joshua Green. Our broadcast engineer is Well Gambino. And from Our London studios— the melodic voice of our announcer, Ms. Dolly D.

[00:28:05] Thank you so much for listening. And I look forward to reading your comments and can’t wait till we meet up again, on the next episode of Parents Are Hard To Raise. Till then…

[00:28:12] May you forget everything you don’t want to remember, and remember everything you don’t want to forget.

Say goodbye Bella.

Bella the Dog: [00:28:10] Barking.

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