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What Are the Benefits of Service Dogs for PTSD?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Service dogs for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can help patients inside and outside the home with the management of their condition and the completion of tasks. They are a form of psychiatric service dog, trained specifically to provide assistance to partners with mental health problems. The exact services provided can depend on the nature of a patient’s PTSD but can include help with emotional overload, prompts to complete activities, and assistance with security concerns.

One benefit of service dogs for PTSD can be assistance with emotional overload. People with this condition can experience extreme stress in response to triggers that evoke fear and other emotions associated with trauma. The dog can remain watchful for signs of stress like shaking, rapid speech, or sweating. It can offer a tactile stimulus to distract the patient and break the cycle; this might include something like licking, pawing, or leaning on the partner to refocus attention.

The presence of a service dog can also help someone navigate unfamiliar or frightening environments. Some patients like to work with larger breeds to create an intimidating presence, which forces people to give them more personal space. While the dog is not trained for security purposes, it can help the patient feel more secure. Service dogs for PTSD can also perform tasks like house or room checks, confirming that an environment is safe for the handler.

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Trainers can teach service dogs for PTSD to perform tasks like turning lights off or on, activating radios and televisions, and providing similar distractions for their handlers. Dogs can also wake their partners up if they appear to be in distress, or need to wake up to answer the door or attend an appointment. In an emergency, the dog can call for help by using a special canine phone, and can also perform tasks like leading paramedics to a handler who is unable to move. Service dogs for PTSD can also be used for bracing and stabilization if a patient feels dizzy or unsteady because of medication or emotional distress.

Service dog handlers can train their own dogs, a process which can be particularly beneficial for people with PTSD. Working with an experienced trainer, they can develop a connection with a dog while preparing it for public access and teaching it to perform specific tasks. It is also possible to partner with a dog trained by an organization. Typically the organization asks people matched with service dogs for PTSD to commit to several weeks of intensive training at the time of delivery so handlers can get familiar with their dogs.

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browncoat
Post 3

@Iluviaporos - It's definitely important that people don't assume that any dog can help with PTSD though. If you get a dog that needs a lot of specialized care or one with its own problems, you might just be compounding the stress that's already there.

We like to think of dogs as completely intuitive, but you also get dogs that won't stop barking or who chew everything in the house and those are stressful enough for the average person, without inflicting them on someone with PTSD.

lluviaporos
Post 2

@pastanaga- I wouldn't say that they are displaying empathy for our emotions (I wouldn't say they aren't either... we just don't know for sure). Those behaviors are submissive behaviors in dogs rather than necessarily intended to comfort someone.

Dogs are just generally extremely good at being trained to do anything and there have been plenty of studies that show that having a dog is psychologically and emotionally beneficial to the person who keeps them.

Even if they aren't fully trained as PTSD service dogs, I think it's a good idea for returned soldiers to have a dog, just because it's good for almost anyone to have a dog (as long as they are willing and able to provide them with proper care).

pastanaga
Post 1

Something that I read recently showed why dogs are so very good at this kind of role. Dogs will apparently respond to signs of stress or sorrow in people, even people they don't know. They will try to comfort the person by licking them or cuddling into them.

The theory is that they evolved to do this over generations of living with people as companions, as better companions were more likely to be kept for breeding.

So dogs are already somewhat hardwired to display empathy for us and training them as service dogs just taps into that.

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