Pawsitivity trains PTSD Service Dogs for both veterans and civilians.
This page shows you exactly how these hero dogs help people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder lead independent lives. You may also want to check out our page on Psychiatric Service Dogs.
- Trauma-Specific: A PTSD Service Dog does not prevent trauma-specific triggers. An example would be a veteran who is triggered by the sound of helicopters (and the dog would not prevent helicopters from coming around).
- Environmental. A service dog for PTSD can help prevent environmental triggers. The service dog can help the handler get more personal space in public, and do so without attracting attention that the handler doesn't want. The dog can be used as a buffer and keeps other people from unexpectedly getting right next to the handler. Thus, the intensity of being out in public can be reduced to a nice lower level...and the handler can feel much better about going out in public again.
- After the handler starts to react to either a trauma-specific trigger (such as the sound of a helicopter) or environmental trigger (such as people getting too close to the handler), the dog can be a calming presence, thus reducing the effect of the triggering.
- The handler can be trained to focus on the dog during these attacks--instead of focusing on oneself, the dog helps the handler get out of their head and into the moment.
- The Service Dog can be physically placed directly between the handler and the triggering event.
- The dog can be used as a source of emotional stability and comfort.
- Less hypersensitivity (to sounds and other triggers)
- Fewer flashbacks
- Better concentration
- Less insomnia
- Depression: The handler can no longer be tempted to stay in bed all morning (or worse, commit suicide), because the dog must be walked and fed and taken care of.
- Anger: The temptation to lose one's temper is inhibited when the handler realizes their not alone any more, and their actions will directly affect their service dog. For instance, if the handler feels like they are so angry that they might be arrested for their behavior, the fact that their dog would be impounded keeps the handler from giving in to their outbursts.
- Dissociation: It's easy to "check out" for long periods of time, but when the dog is fully bonded to the handler, the dog will often need, want, and request attention, thus bringing the handler back to the here and now.
- If you listen carefully to an old-school television that has a picture tube, you can hear a high-pitched whine at the very upper end of your high-frequency hearing, which is about 16,000 Hz. Dogs hear up to 50,000 Hz. We would have to add 48 extra notes on the high end of a piano to hear that high. This measure of a dog's incredible hearing help explain why some dogs hate some 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.
- A dog's hearing is also considerably more sensitive to quiet noises than our hearing is. We can hear down to 0 decibels, but a dog can hear down to an amazing -10 decibels...that's minus ten decibels.
- A dog's sense of smell is incredible, too. When James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., escaped from the maximum security Missouri State Penitentiary while serving another crime, a trained dog named Buttercup tracked him from his scent trail, finding him his hiding place seven miles away.
- Working dogs have also been used to find where pipelines have been leaking. In the first time service dogs were used for this purpose, at the request of gas company, trainer Glen Johnson inspected the first 20 miles of a natural gas pipeline in the Province of Ontario in Quebec - and found leaks, later confirmed, at a distance of 40 feet underground.
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
Tasks and symptoms
- Retrieve. Bring pill bottle or dropped items to the handler.
- Sweep. Go into a room and search for a person in order to reduce anxiety of intruders.
- Lights. Use nose to turn on a light before the handler enters a room in order to reduce the anxiety of entering a dark area.
Many people with PTSD are not able to get out in public areas, and the “Block” task can help them do so by controlling anxiety, which can be very useful in fostering the recovery process. Note that this task (and "Behind") are not protection behaviors such as aggressive growling, barking, and biting (which are never appropriate for Service Dog work).
- Block. Dog sits (or stands) in front of the handler to assist the handler in creating a safe personal space.
- Behind. Dog sits (or stands) behind the handler serve as a buffer to calm the handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places. This provides panic protection, as the dog braces for possible impact and holds their ground, preventing people from making body contact with their handler
A PTSD Service Dog can also 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 the handler, both at home and in public.
- Facilitate social interactions and reduce fear associated with meeting new people.
- Assist the handler when dealing with mood swings.
- Help the handler to calm down when agitated.
- Reorient and "ground" the handler to current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes.
- 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).
- 82% of those with a PTSD diagnosis reported symptom reduction after partnership with a Service Dog.
- Another 40% reported that their use of medication decreased.
- Lessen perception of physical pain.
- Decrease agitation and aggression.
- Increase social interaction and ability to manage daily living.
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Decrease loneliness.
More info about what a PTSD Service Dog does can be found on our page about Psychiatric Service Dogs.