Pawsitivity Service Dogs

Veterans Programs

Your donation empowers veterans by partnering them with service dogs that promote independence.

Veterans with Complications

See also: Veterans with PTSD  

Pawsitivity works with veterans who are most in need: those in complicated circumstances and those who have multiple disabilities, including PTSD.

Pawsitivity understands that veterans who are in complicated circumstances, such as living and traveling in multiple states, going through a divorce, going to school, or living in a group home, may have a harder time getting the support they need. Pawsitivity is committed to providing these veterans with the resources and support they need to succeed.

Pawsitivity also understands that veterans who have multiple disabilities, such as epilepsy, deafness, or blindness, may have a harder time living independently. Pawsitivity is committed to providing these veterans with the service dogs they need to live more independent and fulfilling lives.

Pawsitivity is dedicated to helping veterans live happy and fulfilling lives. We believe that every veteran deserves the chance to succeed, and we are committed to helping them achieve that goal.

If If you are a US military veteran who is interested in getting a service dog from Pawsitivity, you can apply here. We will review your application and contact you if you are a good fit for our program.

Even though we work with veterans who have multiple disabilities, why do we place so much focus on PTSD?

  1. Many veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) [1]. These injuries happen for many reasons, including the fact that because military personnel often survive blast injuries due to better torso protection, they are then living with the head injuries that come with the blast (and the resulting PTSD).
  2. We focus on PTSD not only because it is a serious condition, but also because it makes other disabilities that veterans may have even worse.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes veterans to have strong reactions to things that remind them of a traumatic event. This can include being overly sensitive to loud noises, crowds, or specific sounds like helicopters. A service dog can help veterans with PTSD by providing comfort, support, and protection. Service dogs can also help veterans to manage their symptoms and live more independent lives.

Goals with a service dog

  • Improve quality of life.
  • Reduce limitations on daily activities.
  • Improve PTSD symptoms.
  • Use less medication.
  • Experience less depression.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Reduce suicide ideation.
  • Increase hours volunteering or working.
  • Decrease need for healthcare.

Symptoms and tasks[2]

Note: This list is from a study. Please also see our page on how service dogs help with PTSD.

  • Reclusiveness: The dog goes with the veteran outside the house.
  • Startle Reaction: The dog creates a personal space perimeter.
  • Neurochemical Imbalance: The team goes for walks to stimulate endorphin production.
  • Dissociative Flashback: Tactile stimulation helps the handler to feel grounded and in the present.
  • Startle Response: The dog alerts the veteran to the presence of others.
  • Emotional Regulation: The dog can be used as a distraction.
  • Sensory Overload: The dog can be used as a focus.
  • Social Withdrawal: The dog helps the veteran to interact with others.
  • Lack of Insight: The dog alerts the veteran to emotional escalation.
  • Hyper-vigilance: The dog helps the veteran to assess their surroundings.
  • Hallucinations: The dog helps the veteran to test reality.

Other tasks:

  • The service dog can be trained to remind the veteran to take their medication. This can help the veteran to stay on their medication and avoid the negative effects of not taking it.
  • If the veteran is stressed, the dog can show signs of stress, like panting, licking, or looking away. Sometimes these signs of stress can be converted into positive actions that alert the veteran. Either by looking for signs of stress or by training "alert" as a task, the service dog can help the veteran to know that they need to take a break. 

A service dog can be very helpful when used with cognitive-behavioral therapy from a therapist or psychologist. This is a kind of therapy that has been shown to be very effective. Using cognitive-behavioral skills in interactions with a service dog can have powerful results.


There are two kinds of triggers: trauma-specific and environmental.

A service dog does not prevent trauma-specific triggers.

An example would be a veteran who is triggered by the sound of helicopters (the dog would not prevent helicopters from coming around).

What a service dog can prevent many general environmental triggers. 

An example is a service dog that helps prevent people and things from upsetting the veteran e.g. the service dog can help the veteran get more personal space in public. The dog can be used as a buffer to keep other people from getting too close. This additional personal space lowers the veteran's level of arousal and can make it easier for the veteran to go out in public.


A service dog can help even after a symptom occurs. If the veteran starts to react to a trauma-specific trigger (like the sound of a helicopter) or an environmental trigger (like people getting too close), the dog can be a calming presence. This can help to reduce the effect of the trigger.

The veteran can be trained to focus on the dog during these attacks. This can help the veteran to get out of their head and into the moment. The dog can help the veteran to focus on something else besides the trigger.

Even when people do crowd the veteran, the veteran can react by cueing the service dog to place themselves directly between the veteran and the triggering event. This can help to create a buffer between the veteran and the trigger. In this way, the dog provides a sense of safety and security for the veteran.

In general, the service dog can also be used as a source of emotional stability and comfort. The dog can provide love and support to the veteran, which can also help to reduce the veteran's anxiety and stress.


A veteran with a service dog may find that their overall stress is reduced. In this new, less-stressed state, the veteran is less sensitive to their triggers (both trauma-specific and general environmental triggers). The veteran can also get better sleep, which reduces overall stress and leads to a better ability to handle future stress.

These reductions in overall stress can lead to:

  • Less hypersensitivity (to sounds and other triggers)
  • Fewer flashbacks
  • Better concentration
  • Less insomnia

Other Benefits

Residual effects of service dogs also help with inappropriate emotional responses often associated with PTSD:

  • Depression: The veteran must walk, feed, and care for the dog, so they can no longer be tempted to stay in bed all morning (or worse, commit suicide).
  • Anger: The temptation to lose one's temper is inhibited when the veteran realizes they are not alone anymore, and their actions will directly affect their service dog. An extreme case would be if the veteran feels that they are so angry that they might be arrested for their behavior, the fact that their dog would be impounded keeps the veteran from giving in to their outbursts.
  • Dissociation: It is easy to "check out" for long periods of time, but when the dog is fully bonded to the veteran, the dog will often need, want, and request attention, thus bringing the veteran back to the here and now.


A veteran with PTSD experiences fear and alertness even when there is no danger. Dr. Kelly Skelton, a psychiatrist who oversees a Veteran's Affairs service dog study at Atlanta VA, says that service dogs can help veterans with PTSD get past their initial fear and get out more. This can help them engage in therapy so they can eventually overcome their excessive fear response.

Reduce Isolation

Veterans with anxiety and fear often isolate themselves. Many of the symptoms of PTSD make it hard to go outside and leave the house because of the possibility of triggers. Veterans with PTSD might only feel comfortable going places or running errands with a spouse or close friend. This is one of the main ways that service dogs improve the quality of life for veterans with PTSD and their loved ones. A service dog can fulfill the same role as a close friend or family member, and the dog can be taken with them 24/7. This can lead to feelings of freedom and increase the veteran's comfort and confidence when going to the mall, grocery shopping, or anywhere else.

Other Functions

Service dogs can be trained to perform tasks that help the veteran interpret the world around them. Veterans with PTSD sometimes can't trust their own senses. But service dogs have incredible hearing, smell, and other senses. This can help the veteran feel safe and reassured that the environment they are in is not dangerous.

Leveraging Smell

  • A dog's sense of smell is amazing. So strong, that they can track people's scent trails for miles. In fact, a dog named Buttercup tracked down James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., seven miles away from the maximum-security Missouri State Penitentiary where he had escaped!
  • Dogs are also used to find leaks in pipelines. In the first time they were used for this purpose, a gas company asked trainer Glen Johnson to inspect the first 20 miles of a natural gas pipeline in Ontario, Quebec. The dog found leaks 40 feet underground, which were later confirmed by the gas company.[11]

Leveraging Hearing

  • If you listen closely to an old-fashioned TV, you can hear a high-pitched whine that is at the very top of the human hearing range, which is about 16,000 Hz. Dogs can hear up to 50,000 Hz. We would have to add extra notes on the high end of a piano to hear that high. This amazing hearing ability helps explain why some dogs hate vacuum cleaners and power tools. These types of equipment may have rapidly rotating shafts that can produce intensely loud shrieks, but the noise is so high that we can't even hear it.
  • Dogs can also hear much quieter noises than humans. The quietest noise that humans can hear is 0 decibels, but dogs can hear down to -10 decibels. That means that dogs can hear sounds that are many times quieter than the quietest sound that humans can hear.[3]

Because dogs can hear and smell better than humans, they can be a great source of information about potential dangers in the environment. For example, if a veteran suddenly feels fear because of a loud noise or a dark room, they can check in with their service dog. If the dog is not aroused, then the veteran can relax and know that there is no danger.

Also, as mentioned before, veterans with PTSD often feel alone because of the trauma they have experienced. But with a service dog, the veteran is not alone. They can go out in public with their dog. Having a constant companion can provide positive feedback in situations that might otherwise be stressful for veterans with PTSD. These dogs also help reduce the stigma of PTSD by providing veterans with an opportunity to interact with the public in a positive and supportive way.

In summary, a PTSD service dog from Pawsitivity can help: 

  • Remind the veteran to take daily medication.
  • Remind the veteran to perform their daily routines.
  • Wake the veteran to prevent them from sleeping too much.
  • Assist the veteran in creating a safe personal space in public, serving as a physical buffer to calm the handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places.
  • Reorient and "ground" the veteran to the current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes.
  • During a panic attack, a psychiatric service dog can help the veteran by giving them something to touch and feel, which can provide comfort.
In addition to aiding with clinical symptoms, these service dogs can help with more general symptoms. The dogs can:
  • Help the veteran relax and calm down when they are feeling anxious or stressed.
  • Go with the veteran to stores and other places to reduce their stress and make it easier for them to do daily activities.
  • Alert the veteran when they are starting to feel anxious or stressed, or so that the veteran can take medication that immediately helps with their symptoms.
  • Remind the veteran to take walks, which helps them get exercise and be more social. This also helps the veteran keep a regular schedule and gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning.


[1] Case Reports, Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 2010 Feb;48(2):22-8. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20100107-01. 

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

[3] "How Dogs Think", Stanley Coren, Simon and Shuster, 2004.