PTSD Service Dogs

Their effectiveness, goals in using them, and studies about how they can help.

PTSD

For people with PTSD, there are many ways a Service Dog can help. See these pages for details:

PTSD   PTSD: Residual Effects   PTSD: Leveraging   PTSD: Triggers   PTSD: Secondary Interventions

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder involves an underlying state regulation disorder, which is often hypersensitivity to sound. While further research needs to be done (there is an ongoing government study), service dog intervention is increasingly being recommending by clinicians in addition to the current treatment plans for people living with this kind of anxiety and fear. A service dog may significantly help with some of the major symptoms and improve overall quality of life. Pawsitivity trains PTSD service dogs for both veterans and non-veterans.

Effectiveness

A report on PTSD service dogs, Effectiveness of Psychiatric Service Dogs in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans, by Dr. James Gillett, PhD, Mcmaster University and Rachel Weldrick, BA, McMaster University, states "there are many clear advantages to using psychiatric service dogs", and findings from a 2009 survey distributed by the US military reported:

Goals with a PTSD Service Dog

  • Improving quality of life

  • Reducing limitations on daily activities

  • Improvement of PTSD symptoms

  • Less use of medication

  • Less depression

  • Improving sleep quality

  • Reducing suicide ideation

  • Increasing in volunteering or job status

  • Decreasing need of health care

From The Use of Psychiatric Service Dogs in the Treatment of Veterans with PTSD, Craig Love Ph.D., US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, MD, 2009.

Psychiatric Service Dog Assistance for with PTSD Symptoms and the Assistive Behaviors and Physical Task:

    • Reclusiveness: Canine accompanies handler outside the home.

    • Night Terrors: Canine wakes handler.

    • Startle Reaction: Canine-defined personal space perimeter. 

    • Neuro-chemical Imbalance: Team walks to stimulate endorphin production.  

    • Dissociative Flashback: Tactile stimulation mediates sensory re-integration and orientation to time/place.

    • Startle Response: Alert to presence of others (i.e., 'pop a corner' or 'watch my back’) work--leveraging a dog's natural senses.

    • Emotional Regulation: Canine as therapeutic distraction.

    • Sensory Overload: Canine as alternate focus.

    • Social Withdrawal: Canine-facilitated interpersonal interaction, which helps with community integration.

    • Lack of Insight: Canine alert to emotional escalation, by leveraging a dog's natural senses.

    • Hyper-vigilance: Canine environmental threat assessment work by leveraging a dog's natural senses

    • Hallucinations: Canine-facilitated reality testing by leveraging a dog's natural senses.

A PTSD service dog is especially helpful when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy from a therapist or psychologist, and it is a therapeutic technique that is repeatedly demonstrated to be legitimate and effective. Applying cognitive behavioral skills to interactions with a service dog can produce powerful outcomes. 

 
Service dog at physical therapy
Independence and freedom, gained through the handler-dog partnership.

Studies

Studies show that a Service Dog can: 

  • Lessen perception of physical pain.

    Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Braun, C., Stangler, T., Narveson, J., & Pettingell, S. (2009). 15(2), 105-109.

    Journal of Holistic Nursing: Official Journal of the American Holistic Nurses' Association Sobo, E. J., Eng, B., & Kassity-Krich, N. (2006).  , 24(1), 51-57.

  • Decrease agitation and aggression.

    Western Journal of Nursing Research, McCabe, B. W., Baun, M. M., Speich, D., & Agrawal, S. (2002). 24(6), 684-696.

  • Increase social interaction and ability to manage daily living.

    International Psychogeriatrics/IPA. Filan, S. L., & Llewellyn-Jones, R. H. (2006). 18(4), 597-611.

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate.

    Psychosomatic Medicine, Allen, K., Blascovich, J., & Mendes, W. B. (2002). 64(5), 727-739.

  • Decrease loneliness.

    The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Banks, M. R., & Banks, W. A. (2002). 57(7), M428-M432.

  • Ease anxiety or depression.

    American Journal of Critical Care: An Official Publication, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Cole, K. M., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., & Kotlerman, J. (2007).  16(6), 575-585; quiz 586; discussion 587-588.

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A Service Dog can help: 

  • Remind the handler to take medication.

  • Improve organization by reminding the handler to perform her or his daily routines.

  • Wake the handler to prevent him or her from sleeping too much (hypersomnia).

  • Provide tactile stimulation

  • Reassure handler, both at home and in public

  • Facilitate social interactions and reduce fear associated with meeting new people

  • Assist handler in creating a safe personal space

  • Assist handler when dealing with mood swings

  • Serve as a buffer to calm handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places

  • Helping handler to calm down when agitated

  • Reorienting and "grounding" handler to current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes

Additional Help

In addition to aiding with clinical symptoms, these service dogs can help with more general symptoms, such as sadness and loneliness, by initiating walks outside the home, and showing the handler affection. The dogs can:

  • Assist the handler when he or she tries to relax (self-soothe) in order to complete uncomfortable tasks.

  • Provide companionship while in stores and other environments can reduce stress associated with daily activities.

  • Alert when the handler is starting to experience anxiety problems reminding the handler to take his or her medication.

  • Encourage the handler to be more social by getting him or her out of the house for walks.  Walks also increase the amount of exercise the handler gets and improves his or her ability to self-sooth if they are struggling with insomnia, or having anxiety issues.

  • Help the handler keep a constant schedule and will be a reason to get out of bed in the morning (walks, relieve themselves).