“People usually say 'hi' to Thor more than they do to me.”

At Your Service: How a Service Dog Helps this Associate Live a Better Life

We’d like to introduce you to an extraordinary associate at the Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas. He wears his badge proudly as he strides through the halls, always alert and eager to help. There’s no doubt he’s dedicated to his work.
Thor is a service dog. His owner, Derrick Pehlman, works at the home office as a Manager of Food Safety. And yes, Thor really has his own badge.
Derrick says the main deterrent of having a service dog is that it puts you out there. “It’s not exactly easy having to explain to people why you have one,” Derrick said.
Derrick served in the National Guard for 23 years, not only serving in Iraq but right here in the states. He says most people don’t realize how devastating it can be to serve at home with the National Guard. He witnessed people's homes being destroyed while helping at the levees on the Mississippi River and was called to aid in civil disturbances. All of this was in addition to the traumas of the battlefield.
As a result of his service overseas and in the U.S., Derrick developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He found himself in constant fight-or-flight mode and unable to deal with crowds.
For Derrick, attaining a service dog to help with his PTSD was a years-long process, which he says is common among service members. He describes the decision-making process in three stages: admitting that you need help (usually the lengthiest part of the process), discovering what options are available and then, actually taking the necessary steps. He credits his wife, Sarah, with encouraging him to finally follow through. “She knows me better than I know myself,” Derrick said.
When Derrick was ready to move forward with choosing a dog, it was puppy love at first sight. Sarah happened upon a service dog training group at the local farmer’s market. The couple met Thor, and the rest is history. “Sometimes the service dog picks you, not the other way around,” Derrick said.
When choosing a service dog, it’s imperative that the personalities of the breed and the owner mirror each other – and Derrick and Thor are a match made in heaven. The Belgian Malinois breed, described by Derrick as “German Shepherds on steroids,” has a strong personality, and are extremely athletic and dedicated to their owners. “I have an on-the-go, active lifestyle, and Thor fits that bill,” Derrick said.
Once Thor was chosen by the Pehlmans—or rather, he chose them—he went through an intense training process that took about 9-10 months. While he lived with his trainer 24/7 during that period, Derrick was a huge part of his training and still participates in remedial training to keep his commands sharp.
They go on frequent outings to keep Thor on his paws, too.
Thor’s main responsibility is to watch people for Derrick, giving his mind a rest while keeping an eye on him and intervening when needed. “We do everything together,” Derrick said. “Everywhere I go, he goes.”
Thor is specifically trained to sense when the signature PTSD symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks and anger outbursts flare up for Derrick. When he senses that his owner is experiencing these symptoms, Thor “locks on” to Derrick with a look, jumps onto his chest and licks his face. It seems simple, but this is enough to pull Derrick out of a PTSD episode. 
Thor goes wherever Derrick goes, including work. “Walmart has been phenomenal and unbelievably accommodating of Thor,” Derrick said. “They basically asked ‘what do you need and when do you need it by?’”
His coworkers have been welcoming and respectful of Thor as well. Every morning, Thor makes his rounds, greeting the team with a good morning sniff and then goes into professional mode. He even has his own desk.   

Though it might be tempting to pet him, Derrick says the best way to treat a service dog is to pretend like they aren’t there, so they can do their job. “You’re not going to hurt the dog’s feelings by not petting him,” Derrick said. It is perfectly OK to greet Thor – and he gets a lot of attention. “People usually say, 'Hi!' to Thor more than they do to me,” Derrick said.


And don’t worry – Thor gets plenty of affection. At home, Thor is like any other pet, playing with the Pehlman’s teenagers or snuggling on the couch. The only difference is he’s constantly ready to switch into service dog mode. He even has a furry friend – a lab named Finnegan. Finnegan and Thor are two peas in a pod, although the differences in the two dogs remind Derrick what a perfect partner he’s found in Thor.



Derrick and Thor just celebrated their first anniversary on May 1, and we couldn’t be happier these two heroes found each other. 

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