AJ: [00:00:00] So this week’s episode is a special one to me because we have Josh Hughes with us today. And I think by the end of this podcast, you guys are going to understand the reason why it’s so special. I’m excited not only to have him on and be able to talk some dog stuff with him, but I’m just thrilled to be able to know him and, gain inspiration from Josh.
So I want to start off, Josh, by letting you introduce yourself for a moment and let everybody know who you are. Tell us a little bit about yourself and we’ll move on from there.
Josh: My name is Joshua Hughes.
I grew up in New York State. I joined the [National] Guard.
I was deployed to Iraq, 04-05, come home as an E-4.
All right. So then I’ve got a motorcycle, [00:01:00] driving back and forth to New York. Vermont was in an accident left me paralyzed.
So I moved to Georgia. Aspirated.
I died, my mom couldn’t find me, brought me back to life, and then that was the biggest hiccup of my life.
I used to be able to push a manual chair, now I have to roll these wheels, I need power, and
so when I was in New York, I bought a dog up there, his name was Trapper, he was probably the best dog I’ve ever had, he passed away many years ago though,
just life’s not what I thought it was going to be, I suck up and drive home.
AJ: Well I think that, you know, opening it up with your introduction. I think we’re really going to humble some people to really know what you go through every day. And I think that’s what inspired us the most and really what gravitated us together. And I say this [00:02:00] often to people, dogs bring so many people together. I guess it’s kind of hard to explain through words on the events through our life, including yours, that dogs have impacted, right?
Not just the obvious, you know, having man’s best friend. The comfort, the unwavering commitment that a dog has with you, but the intangibles such as this, if it wasn’t for dogs, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet you. So for those that are listening and maybe can’t see Josh right now, let me reiterate a couple of things.
So Josh is wheelchair bound has been for how many years now, Josh?
Josh: Since 2006.
AJ: So throughout all these years.[00:03:00] , since 2006, he’s been wheelchair bound, and needs somebody to help him virtually with almost everything you do, except for. Willing around and trying to run people over you can drive. You have a vehicle that you can drive in. That’s upfitted for your chair,
but the everyday other tasks, such as, you know, having to get up to use a restroom or get to a bed. You just can’t do right. That’s correct.
So those listening at home right now that can’t see you can only hear your voice, right? I can only imagine them hearing your voice for the 1st time on this cast and thinking, what is this dude talking about? Right? Why is he talking like that? [00:04:00] Um, but you’re and I hate to use disabilities because as we’re going to see throughout.
This time that we get to spend together on here, we figure out a way, right? You figure out a way and even though you need a lot of assistance, , each and every day you drive on, like you said, right? , and sometimes, , you need more help than other times. But each and every day you drive on.
Josh: Yes sir. I have a short-term memory loss from the TBI. That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with.
AJ: . You know, knowing you for some time now, I see that. And that was something that we didn’t know getting into, I say this project, but I think you said it best with. This is [00:05:00] not how you planned your life, right? But I say the same thing. This is not how I planned my life, nor how I planned to, , have the privilege to get to know you.
And to meet you, so I’m going to get into that a little bit and kind of why we’re here talking now, because there’s some important lessons that we can all learn from this and the lessons that I learned from you and the inspiration that you give all of us to have the opportunity to know you to train with you and to have a little bit of time that we get to hang out with you.
And I say a little bit of time because, you know, obviously we’re not with you 24/7. But we get to spend that time with you and it’s kind of awesome and that resonates with everybody who has that opportunity to meet you. So [00:06:00] I want to talk a little bit about that for just a moment and kind of what brought us together
About what I’ll say is about a year and a half, 2 years ago, you came to us. With a request and that request was to train you and your dog as a bomb dog team first and foremost to train your dog, but then to train you to be a handler and let me go back because we can’t forget that Josh is.
Wheelchair bound, right? And as you can hear through his speech, he’s very soft spoken and because of his TBI and a short term memory loss, like this is a project that was going to be intensive to say the least, right? And, I just remember meeting you and going, well, yes, we can do it. How we’re going to do it, I don’t [00:07:00] know. Like we’re going to have to figure it out. But it was something that I was excited about. And I had told the team after you left, I don’t care what it takes, we need to figure it out and we need to figure out how to help Josh and get him to a point to where he can reach his goals.
Because that’s why we do what we do. We don’t do it for the easy stuff. We don’t do it for the, mundane teaching obedience or training the detector dog, those things are pretty elementary in my opinion, because we have a process, we kind of moved through that process and , yes, we run into some issues, but there’s nothing more than figuring out.
And I talked a little bit about this with Terry on our last episode about thinking outside the box. Not getting trapped inside that box and doing everything through a process but figuring out how we can help people figuring out how we can fix a dog and utilizing all the tools that we have in our tool bag to do that.
And that’s what we did in your case was [00:08:00] we said we’re going to figure it out. No matter what it takes. And as we know, as we sit here today, we’ve backed up and punted, we’ve pivoted, we’ve changed some things we’ve come together as a team to meet and say, okay, we need to figure this out because , it’s simple things like, , how are we going to get this dog to recall where Josh can’t yell across the field, as you can hear in his voice. So we have to figure out another way. So we decided to implement a whistle to be able to do that. There’s a lot of things that we adjusted in order to make this work. Cause at the end of the day, Josh is going to be a patrol bomb dog handler. With his dog, and I say at the end of the day, because this is a process we’re going to move through and the commitment is there throughout the duration of this, however long it takes, but there was no shortcuts taken on the [00:09:00] curriculum or on his training.
And what I mean by that is he’s going to earn it just like everybody else earned it. He’s going to have to control his dog and work his dog and make decisions, adjust to the environment and utilize the tool that he’s been trained to use. In the best way that he can, but that doesn’t mean that we changed the standards for Josh because he’s in a wheelchair and that was a discussion we had from the very beginning, right, Josh?
Josh: Yes, sir. I believe I came here, I met y’all a year ago or a year and a half, something like that, so I could get to meet y’all and you could see my disability and everything.
AJ: That was pretty eye opening, right? To us, you know, on what we were going to have to do to make this work, but there was also things that we found out that we didn’t know about as we got into this project, and that’s why I said sometimes we had to pivot. Sometimes we had to come together as a team and figure some things out, [00:10:00] and those were through some very pointed meetings between all of us.
Josh included, , but there’s a lot of things that I learned throughout this process, which we’ll talk about because at the end of the day, we have to learn from everything that we do. Last week we learned some things from Terry and how Terry got into his business and some of the troubles that he goes through and some things that he may fear in his business and how that evolves, but also how he overcame those things.
So today I want to learn some things. I want to give the people that are listening, some things that they can learn from Josh, because. There’s so many things that I learned from Josh and I continue to learn on a daily basis and as we get through this introduction and we move on, I want to ask you a little bit about your dog, Echo, and that’s your current dog, right?
Josh: Yes, sir.
AJ: Can you tell us a little bit about Echo? What breed is Echo? [00:11:00] German Shepherd.
Josh: She’s about four or five years old, I believe.
AJ: Yeah, you’re, you’re kind of embarrassing me, Josh. You’ve been through training for this entire time. You don’t even know how old your dog is. Okay. Remind me when I see you about this, okay, so I can get on to you. Yes, sir. But no, really, German Shepherd. She was originally trained in another discipline, which was IGP, right?
You guys were in the sport dog world to start. Is that right?
Josh: That’s correct.
AJ: So you did that for a number of years. I remember seeing some videos of you guys training and then you decided that you were going to make a switch and you wanted to Have her trained as an explosives and patrol dog, correct? That’s correct.
And why, why [00:12:00] make that switch, Josh?
Josh: Everybody, mainly myself, that I could do this.
AJ: So you made the switch because you wanted to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Man, what a great motivation, right? And I think sometimes we get caught up and, and we can’t, and I heard you say that a number of times. I remember a very pointed conversation we had where you were kind of downplaying yourself, , early on in training and saying stuff like you couldn’t do it . So from that point to today, how do you feel about that transition? Pretty confident.
Josh: I’m happy with Echo. She turned out really nice. Thanks to y’all.
AJ: Well, we only play a small role in the [00:13:00] overall picture, right? We’re just giving guidance, giving advice, helping problem solve and Putting you up to bat, but at the end of the day, you still got to hit the ball. And that’s what we see every single day. You come out is you’re going to swing.
Josh: I’m always on time or I try to be, I have a little long drive though. Y’all have been really understanding.
AJ: Well, we’ve been understanding, but we’ve also been very pointed right and transparent. And what I mean by that is, is we didn’t adjust the standards. Even when you relate, we told you, hey, I don’t care what it takes, but you’re going to have to get up earlier, but you’ve got to be here on time or when the standards weren’t met.
We still had conversations about we still have to do this, or we have to figure out a way to meet these standards. [00:14:00] There’s no shortcuts here.
So now you have Echo, and you made that transition from IGP, and now she’s trained in explosive detection and patrol. How was that transition? Moving from I. G. P. to this style of training? Was it difficult?
Josh: It was difficult because I thought I knew a lot about dogs, which I didn’t, I knew how to drive her. That’s about it.
AJ: But the important thing here too, is to understand that you didn’t reinvent the wheel either though, like you didn’t throw out all your previous training. I think you built upon that. And that’s the same thing with echo, right?
One thing that we have to look at as trainers is also how we take what we have, whether it’s a green dog and take their capabilities, whether it’s a student that’s green or have some past [00:15:00] experience. And we take and we build upon that and make them into what we. Need at the end of the day. And in this case, we did the very same thing for one.
You had good documentation with videos. You gave good input. You were transparent and we took what you and echo had already. And I will say there was a great foundation there. So whoever did the work with you guys prior to getting here, did a very good job. The bite work had a solid foundation. The drive was there, your knowledge was there. So we just took all that and made it in and kind of started migrating into what we have today and where we needed to get at the end of the day, I oftentimes see a lot of trainers go into things and go well, forget everything you learned and do it this way, we know that that’s really not a good way to approach things, especially [00:16:00] in the case where you’ve been doing this for a number of years.
But more so, how do we figure out as trainers, how to take what you have and turn it into what we need now for this project. And that’s kind of how we approach this project. We started writing down everything you guys did. We evaluated and assess the dog and we took all that stuff and started putting it together and, uh, to get us where we are today.
And I must admit. You guys do a really good job now, not where we need to be at the end of the day finished, but we’re probably about 80 percent there. I think. What’s your thoughts on that? Yeah.
Now, one last follow up question as it relates to making this transition. What do you think is the biggest change that you saw between you and the dog since making that change or that migration ?
Josh: Her attitude has change, basically. It’s no joke. The amount of work y’all put into this dog.
AJ: Yeah, I definitely see the focus.
Josh: The… Through the trainer’s course.
AJ: Making that transition from the handler side of things, and that was one thing you and I had a conversation about, was you making a transition to the training side of things.
What was your thoughts when I approached you with that?
Josh: My thoughts was, I don’t know if I could do it, you know, but I can.
AJ: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So let me give a little bit of backstory with that.
Let me start here. You know, guys, I started off by telling you that it was a blessing to, , know Josh and just seeing him train every day, show up without complaint and push himself beyond. I think most of us that are listening today could ever do based on [00:18:00] his condition and it was such an inspiration to all of us because in perspective, we deal with very little compared to what Josh deals with every single day. The biggest thing that really hit me, Josh, was the fact that,
and I guess the reality of what I would go through every day if I was in your situation, and what I kept going back to was purpose, and that’s really what resonated with me was purpose. And I thought from Josh’s perspective what would be your purpose every day to get up and live the way you live?
What would be my purpose if I was in your situation? There was a couple of things that I knew for sure. The first thing was you got along with the team. , you were one of us. That was the first [00:19:00] thing. The second thing is, is your determination and your heart to help others.
I think we could find ourselves in a slump very easily if we were in your situation, and at least I would. We complain about the small things. I see students that are late to training consistently. They can’t get out of bed on time. They complain about training being difficult. Or it being hot outside, or it’s raining outside, and why are we training in the rain, or why do I need to do this?
Can I just take a break? I hear all these things from students that are able bodied and capable, but there’s not one time in this entirety that I’ve ever heard that from you. It’s just crazy, but I go back to purpose, and so that’s really what weighed on me very heavily. I just wanted to be a part of providing a little bit of that purpose to you because you have so [00:20:00] much that you can give to somebody so much inspiration you have so much knowledge about dogs.
There’s a lot of people that are also in your situation. That think they can’t do this
and I know that you can be such an inspiration to them because of that. And I just wanted to kind of set the environment to allow you to do that. And so that finds us in a position now where Josh has accepted the challenge to now start training dogs for other people really that need a service dog that would be in your situation.. So Josh is finishing up his handler course in a very short period of time will be attempting certification as an explosives and patrol dog team, but at the same time now merging into the training realm. In training dogs and training handlers. [00:21:00] Josh, what’s your thoughts about that new venture?
Josh: I think it’s awesome. I really enjoy working with dogs and other people. You know, like people in my situation too.
AJ: What are you looking most forward to now that you’ve taken on that role and now beginning to learn the training side of things? What are you most looking forward to with that?
Josh: I enjoy people and dogs.
AJ: How many excuses are you going to give us this week on why you can’t do something?
AJ: It’s funny that we joke about that, but that’s absolutely right. It’s just crazy to see you rolling around, I say rolling around, but literally rolling around the facility, right? Changing chairs and working your dog and telling people what to do and helping them with their dogs it’s just [00:22:00] crazy, man. It’s just crazy. And you just really have to see it. I just see everything you do and it’s crazy, but the best thing is you can really pick at people with the best of them.
Yeah, I’ve already gotten three complaints from other staff members that you pick on them too much.
That’s right. Yes. Szymon has already filed two complaints and said that you’re picking on him and you’re bullying him at work. So, we’ll have a conversation about that after this meeting about you picking on Simon too much.
Josh: He’s a big boy.
AJ: So what’s your proudest moment so far in training with Echo? What are you most proud of right now?
Josh: How far she’s come since I sent her to y’all. She has come a long way. I enjoy watching her work, getting to know her.
AJ: That’s why she’s almost the perfect dog for [00:23:00] you, right? Like I see the bond that you guys have and how she interacts. Her seriousness when she needs to be around other people or other dogs, but then the compassion she has for you is remarkable. Now, I know we talked a little bit about Echo’s best moments, but what about yours, Joshua?
I know you’ve dealt with some difficulty. Can you tell us one area that was most difficult for you and then how you overcome that difficulty?
Josh: My memory.
I overcame that by taking notes through my phone.
That’s definitely the hardest.
AJ: Okay, yeah. And we also consulted with some specialists, right?
Josh: Oh, yeah. Called the VA and everything.
AJ: Yeah, it’s crazy how, and I say this, It’s crazy how the VA gets the bad rap with everything, and I understand there’s always exceptions to each case, but I have to say, not just dealing with this situation, but in many other [00:24:00] situations, the VA was quick to help us, weren’t they?
Josh: Absolutely. It’s been wonderful to me. I can’t say enough good things about them.
AJ: I can’t remember a time that I haven’t called them for help with a veteran. They haven’t tried to put their best foot forward.
And in the case of the TBI, we reached out to several people in the VA. Of course, we reached out to some other resources. Alec, one of our trainers had some connections as well. My dad dealing with the TBI as well. We were able to reach into some of our resources in order to get a good footing on how we can best help you and how we can set things up to be conducive to your learning.
And not that we have it all figured out by any means. However, it put us on a great path forward in order to get us to the point we are today. Would you agree? Absolutely.
So I guess we send out a good shout out to the VA. . [00:25:00] Yes, sir. All right. I’ll second that for real because they really do help in a lot of situations and they have resources.
Let’s look for the future. And let’s talk about a little bit about where you see yourself let’s say in 6 months.
Where do you see yourself?
Josh: Here, training dogs.
That’s why I see myself.
AJ: , I’m excited to see the growth that you’re going to have, not just with echo, but also with the training and, the projects that you’re working on. Hopefully have a handful of veterans in your course or in your courses that you’re training
I’m excited to see. Where you’re going to be in six months and where you’re going to take the division that you’re working on with training service dogs and veterans, right? So can you tell me a little bit about what you, in an ideal world in six months, how many veterans would you have that you would be teaching?
As many as possible. Realistically, what does that look like for you though? How many is too many? , how many do you want to have ideally [00:26:00] in training with you within this next six months?
Josh: I’d like to start off small.
Maybe one or two every say like six to eight weeks.
AJ: Well, that’s great. Having a goal on where we’re going, that could go right back to training, right where we build small and then increase it from there. But most importantly, we have to know where we’re going. What does our goal look like? What goal are we aiming towards?
And I know you’ve thought a lot about that. What you want to do, how you want to do it. I’ve gotten all the text and the planning that you’ve been putting into how you want to run that division. I’m going to give you the support you need, but it’s something that is going to be your legacy, not mine.
So, that’s my commitment to you. I’m going to give you the support, the resources you need, but at the end of the [00:27:00] day, it’s about you building your legacy
From a personal level, Josh, can you tell us about some of the biggest challenges that you face personally?
Josh: My memory is one of them. And then there’s obviously people you see every day is my not being able to walk, but personally, it had to be just depending on a lot of people. Help take care of me.
AJ: So, Josh, let me, this wasn’t on our notes, but I think there’s some important people in your life that help you daily. Would I be right about that?
So, I know I’ve heard. And had the privilege to talk to your mom a couple times, but I know how much you depend on her and how much she does for you. Can you talk a little bit about her?
Josh: She works in the cafeteria at a school. She helps take care of me. She’s got a lot of grandchildren.
AJ: And what about your dad?[00:28:00]
Josh: He’s a good guy. He’s there for me. He was about like five minutes down the road from me. I hang out him off and we go out too, he helps me when he can.
AJ: So we’ve heard about what your vision is in 6 months, but you only talked about the dog perspective and what you want to be doing then. But from a personal perspective, Josh, what is something that you work on daily to help you get through each and every day?
Josh: Just staying calm and staying on time.
AJ: Alright, and if there’s somebody listening right now that, let’s say, finds themselves in your situation or a situation where It’s life changing in an instant. What’s the one thing you would tell them?
Josh: That someone’s been there before. You know, like, people’s been through it all. Never give up. Never surrender. You can do this.
AJ: You know, sometimes we just say the words. [00:29:00] You know, don’t give up, you can do it, you know, those things are things that we hear very often from a lot of different people, but never from a person that’s been there and done that, like yourself. Right. And that’s what kind of gets me the most. When I see you train and when I compare you to other students and not that I’m going around comparing you to other students, but I think it’s more evident when I hear the complaints or I hear the, I can’t do that, or it’s hot out here, or we have to train later.
Long hours, and I look at someone like yourself that gives us that advice to never give up to, you know, push past the limits that we think that we have. And that’s the thing that I see with you every single day in training, you know, obviously, I have a better insight than most. Especially those that [00:30:00] are listening to this right now, you know, you being laid up for two weeks with the bed sore or sore on your backside, having to let it heal from all the training that you’ve been doing, , you needing help from somebody, probably 90 percent of your time throughout the day.
That’s help with. Getting in and out of bed, getting dressed, moving from your chair to the bed, , sometimes picking stuff up for you, things that we take for granted,
you just never give up and never surrender. You push on every single day and that’s such an inspiration to me. Uh, and I know for a fact that people you’ve come in contact with that’s been training or that work for us, or that have an opportunity to meet you feel the same way. A lot of people have whispered in my ear how much they like you and how much they [00:31:00] enjoy being around you, but also the inspiration that you give them when they think life is tough, when they think things are not going the way they think it should, they think about you and the inspiration that you give them.
And I pray that everybody that’s listening to this or has an opportunity to listen to this, that point is really driven home with them. Through this episode and through the things that you accomplish on a day to day basis that we oftentimes take for granted
you continue to push to new heights every single day. That’s such an inspiration.
Josh:I like to think back to the soldier’s creed. I’m an American soldier, I’m a warrior and a member of a team. I’m an American soldier.
I try to live by those details.[00:32:00]
AJ: Man, that’s awesome. So there’s a couple things I wanna say before we get off here, as we wrap it up. So the first thing is, is you know, Josh is, and this is for everybody out there, Josh is. Beginning and in the stages of building a division where he’s going to volunteer his time. His expertise and train dogs and veterans and whoever in the heck else he wants to train at no cost.
That’s something that he’s passionate about and something that we’re going to support and help him to build that legacy through, through his training. So. If there’s anybody out there that’s listening that’s interested, please let us know. Again, this is in the infancies. So there will be things that we got to put to some structure [00:33:00] and, you know, how the decisions are made on who gets accepted into the program and who doesn’t, but it’s 100 percent going to be Josh’s decision on how that runs and how that’s built.
Moving forward, we’re just going to be here to be the catalyst to help him where he needs it. Not that he needs much help from us. , we’re going to lend that help to him as he continues to build that. , and then the next thing I just want to recap some things that I learned from Josh today. , and the first thing that I’ll go towards is you said this early on when we let off in this episode, you said never quit.
And as simple as those two words are, sometimes they’re very daunting on a lot of us, not just me, but maybe somebody out there that’s listening. So, let’s have that never quit attitude. The next thing that I took from this was that we all have to have a purpose. No matter what that purpose is, it doesn’t [00:34:00] have to align with what everybody else thinks our purpose should be.
Be accepting to where life brings us. But most importantly, have the inspiration that he gives to us. And as we talked about that can put a lot of weight on your shoulders, Josh, and I made sure that we had that conversation that. With the weight that’s going to be put on your shoulders because people will begin to depend on you. Are you ready for that?
Josh: I believe so.
AJ: Yeah, me too.
Josh: I have faith in this team that you built.
AJ: Well, everybody plays a vital role in a team, right? It’s not one person. We all have roles within this team. And that’s the importance of having a great team.
cut it out, man. Cut it out.
The next thing I learned was, and you said it best, suck up and drive on. Sometimes we don’t need to stop and complain and worry [00:35:00] about everything else. We just need to suck up and drive on because those things go away.
The last thing is, and you said this almost to start this episode was you said you wanted to do this to prove to yourself that you could do it. What other justification do we need to do anything? I often think about that because unfortunately in our industry and unfortunately in the world that we live in today, we can’t make everybody happy.
And there’s times where we get attacked or, you know, we have people that are on the outside shooting arrow, shooting arrows at us, but at the end of the day, we don’t need to prove anything to anybody else. Most importantly, we need to prove things to ourselves. And that’s really all the justification we need.
Josh doesn’t have to prove anything to me or to anybody else on the CCU team. He just needs to prove to himself that he can do it. And I’m going to end this episode with that. This don’t get caught up in what everybody else is trying to tell us that we need to do or how we need to do it or how bad we are [00:36:00] or at the end of the day, there’s only one person we need to prove anything to.
And that’s us ourselves.
So, Josh, I appreciate you teaching me that today. I pray that there’s just somebody out there today. If it’s just 1 person that you were able to inspire and to give them that suck it up and drive on attitude. We’ve accomplished our goals, right?
Josh: Never give up. Never surrender.
AJ: Alright man, I love you and I appreciate all that you’re doing, and I just encourage you to keep on proving to yourself that you can do it. Love you too, aj.
Josh: Thank you very much for this opportunity.
AJ: You’re blessing us more than we can. Bless you. Josh Hughes, everybody. You’re gonna see some great things outta this guy, I promise you.
Josh: Oh yeah.[00:37:00]