Posttraumatic stress disorder may be afflicting as many 2.7million Americans that have been deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan since 2001.
PTSD can be a serious mental condition. It is caused by experiencing or witnessing a life threatening traumatic event. Our lab is looking into whether service dogs may be able to help veterans of the military who have PTSD.
We found that Veterans with post-traumatic anxiety disorder often feel less depressed and less anxious and therefore miss less work.
Complete complementing other forms
Many veterans have found the classic treatments for PTSD to be effective, including medication and therapy. These approaches don’t work for every veteran, so more veterans are looking to PTSD service animals.
The estimated 500,000 national service dogs assist people with a wide variety of conditions. These include multiple sclerosis, psychological challenges, visual or auditory impairments, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
We partner with Canine Companions for Independence for our PTSD research. These two organizations are among many that train service canines to aid veterans with PTSD.
It’s not possible to have this kind of help from one breed. These dogs may be any breed, from shelter mixes to purebred Labrador retrievers.
Like therapy and emotional support dogs, service canines must be trained for specific tasks. This is the case when they are helping to relieve PTSD symptoms. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Service dogs may be permitted to enter public places where other dogs will not.
The ability to reduce anxiety
Service dogs can help PTSD vets in many ways. The most widespread tasks are to calm veterans and stop them from becoming anxious. They said their dogs are helping them to relax and comfort their anxiety five times a days, with their dogs interrupting their anxiety an average of three time per day.
Dogs can “cover up” veterans at a supermarket by alerting their owner to the presence of someone approaching. A service dog could alert its owner to interrupt panic attacks and calm down a veteran suffering from panic attacks. The veteran can now focus on the dog, and the dog will be able to help the veteran re-center on what is happening right now, which should hopefully prevent or minimize panic attacks.
In addition to the tasks that their dogs must perform, veterans share that the companionship and love they experience from their dogs is helping them to cope with PTSD.
After veterans had service dogs, they said that they were happier with their lives. They also felt more fulfilled with their relationships with family and friends.
We also measured levels of cortisol. Also known as the ” stressed hormone “, this was found in veterans with service animals. We found patterns similar to that of adults without PTSD.
Extra responsibilities, challenges
However, not all veterans can afford service dogs.
It can draw attention to veterans if dogs are present in public. While some veterans are grateful for the attention and encourage their independence, others hate having to be accompanied by well-intentioned, dog-loving strangers. We found that experience this challenge more often than veterans.
Service dogs can make travel more difficult. This is especially true if many people don’t know the legal rights for service dogs. They might ask inappropriate questions or put up barriers that aren’t permitted. Experts agree that public education on service dogs is a way to reduce these obstacles.
A dog’s care includes walking, grooming, caring for and feeding them.
Sometimes, a disability can be made more visible by introducing a stigma. People suffering from PTSD might not recognize their condition until they have a dog that is always with them.
The benefits are often more important than the challenges for veterans, especially when they are met with the right expectations. Clinicians can play an important role in helping vets understand how to care for their animals in order to make the intervention positive for both them and the dogs.
Now we’re completing the first registration clinical trial comparing how veterans respond to the usual PTSD intervention with the effect of having a trained service-dog.
As we research continues, we try to determine how long-lasting the effects of service dogs are, how veterans’ families react, and how we can encourage veterans and service dogs to work together.