Update: 2/1/2020: The study is finished! It states, "This study is the most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous examination of the impact of two different types of dog interventions on PTSD related to disability and functioning." The study concludes that yes, PTSD service dogs work, and they are better for veterans than emotional support animals with "fewer suicidal behaviors and ideation". The final text of the study is entitled, "A Randomized Trial of Differential Effectiveness of Service Dog Pairing Versus Emotional Support Dog Pairing to Improve Quality of Life for Veterans with PTSD". We also have a PDF of the 186-page study. because although the abstract is on ResearchGate and the full text is at https://www.research.va.gov, the text is not available via Google Scholar at this time. The citation is:
Richerson, Joan & Saunders, Gabrielle & Skelton, Kelly & Abrams, Thad & Storzbach, Daniel & Fallon, Michael & Biswas, Kousick & Wagner, Todd & Magruder, Kathryn & Stock, Eileen & Mi, Zhibao & Beaver, Bonnie & McGovern, Stephanie & Dorn, Patricia & Huang, Grant & Frakt, Austin & Pizer, Steven & Leighton, Sarah & Kennedy, Brenda & Groer, Shirley. (2020). A randomized trial of differential effectiveness of service dog pairing to improve quality of life for veterans with PTSD.
This study has prompted Congress to pass the PAWS Act (official text of the PAWS Act). The study also determined that as of 2020, the cost to raise and train a PTSD service dog for a veteran is $25,000.
Past notes on an ongoing long-term government study on PTSD service dogs, the first randomized, controlled trial of its type:
- 10/8/2009: The three-year study is mandated by Minnesota Senator Al Franken's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Public Law 111-84, § 1077(a) (2009) (the NDAA), which states that “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall commence a three-year study to assess the benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.” The outcome measures will be defined by:
- CAPS & PCL-C – PTSD diagnosis
- Depression – measured by PHQ9
- Anxiety – measured by STATE/TRAIT
- Alcohol abuse – measured by the Audit-C
- July 2011, the Veteran's Administration started the study, and entitled it, Service Dogs for Veterans With PTSD, NCT01329341, Clinical Trials # NCT01329341, at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, FL. The original study start date was May 2011 and the estimated completion date was March 2014.
- As of 10/5/2012, the VA announced that they will not cover service dogs for veterans with mental disabilities, but that fact may change if the study goes well. We look forward to the results of the study!
- 9/13/13: Senator Charles Schumer called on VA for an immediate update on this study.
11/22/13: Study restarted. You can see the official history here (the following is basically the same history, but with my notes included):
- 11/22/13: After two stoppages, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it plans to restart the study. The new version of the study has far tighter standards for the dogs and a more rigorous design. The new study is being overseen by VA's Cooperative Studies Program (CSP), which has decades of experience running large multi-site clinical trials. Going out in the community is one of the parameters the researchers will measure, and overall, the focus is on quality of life and limitations on daily activities. Secondary outcomes the researchers will look at include PTSD symptoms, depression, sleep, suicidal intent, use of health care, and job status. Three vendors will be training the dogs: one is in California, another in Alabama, and a third in North Carolina.
- 1/16/14: Update: The VA has officially restarted the three-year study, and plans to award the contract in January or February 2014. The enrolling of veterans into the study will take 18 months, with the last one enrolled in fall 2015.
- 5/27/14: Confirmation that the three-year study will start "in the coming months" of 2014 with the new name, “Can Service Dogs Improve Activity and Quality of Life in Veterans With PTSD?”. The Clinical Trials # (NCT number) is NCT02039843, and the other study ID # is SDPTSD.
- 9/6/14: The study's website states that work is verified, although still not open to participant recruitment. The completion date is June 2017.
- 1/7/15: The study is now recruiting 220 VA patients as participants for the trials in Georgia, Iowa, and Oregon (the website says this info was last verified in October 2015 and updated on October 2nd, 2015). The time frame is stated as three years. The Estimated Primary Completion Date (final data collection date for primary outcome measure) is October 2016, and the Estimated Study Completion Date is still June 2017.
- 7/14/16: The website says that the study is still recruiting the 220 participants. The Study Start Date is listed as December 2014, the Estimated Primary Completion Date (final data collection date for primary outcome measure) is now December 2017, and the Estimated Study Completion Date is now October 2018. No reason is listed as to why the dates are postponed (the dates are just different now).
- 7/24/16: In a mailer sent by K9s for Warriors, they mention that this Purdue University study's primary research subject is K9s for Warriors in Florida, although the study website says there are three locations (Georgia, Iowa, and Oregon). Some other details are at Deseret News.
- 8/22/17: The study has finished recruiting participants, and now lists both the Study Completion Date and Primary Completion Date as April 2020 (eleven years after the federal law was passed mandating a three-year study). No reason is given for this latest postponement (the dates are just different now).
- 7/22/19: The Estimated Study Completion Date is listed as June 30, 2019. Since it’s past that date, I’m not sure what’s going on. Note that the study is now titled, "Service Dogs for Veterans With PTSD."
- 2/1/2020: The study is finished! Result: Yes, PTSD service dogs work, and they are officially proven to be much better for veterans than emotional support animals.
Back to PTSD page.