Julianne Hough's Puppy Overcomes Fears – with Help from Veterans

12/19/2011 at 09:00 AM EST

Julianne Hough's Puppy Overcomes Fears – with Help from Veterans
Julianne Hough with dog Harley (center) and celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller (far left) with members of Operation Heroes & Hounds
Like anyone with a new puppy, Julianne Hough has had to go through some growing pains with Harley, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel she brought home in April.

Most recently, the nearly 1-year-old pup, who Hough calls a "little devil," has been working through a big issue: her fear of strangers.

Harley's trainer, celebrity dog guru Tamar Geller, has helped canine lovers like Oprah Winfrey and Ben Affleck, and devised a plan to help Harley overcome her anxiety.

On Dec. 9, Hough attended an L.A. session of Geller's Operation Heroes & Hounds program, which helps shelter dogs and war veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and learn new life skills.

By surrounding Harley with eight strangers, many of them veterans in the program, everyone in the group encouraged the pup to ease into the idea of befriending new people. They used Geller's Loved Dog approach to training, and with lots of enthusiasm, praise and repetition of the word "courage," Harley learned that meeting new people can be a positive experience.

"By the end of the session, she even jumped in the lap of one of the veterans," Geller tells PEOPLE. "[Julianne] sat there with her mouth open in awe and said her heart skipped a beat when she saw the changes in her beloved pup."

Hough has continued to use the training since her time at Operation Hereos & Hounds.

"When we pet [Harley] we go, 'Cooourage, cooourage, cooourage,'" Hough told PEOPLE at a beachside shoot for Proactiv earlier this month. "That's our new thing with Harley that we practice."

–With reporting by Melody Chiu

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