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Service Dog Support

Articles and links to additional information about service dogs and PTSD.

APA Says Service Dogs Are Invaluable

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects an estimated one in seven adults at some time in their lives and it affects a large proportion of military members and veterans. Military deployment and reintegration challenges permeate the lives and relationships of Veterans, their spouses, and their families. Among these challenges, 23% of post-9/11 Veterans have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In addition to the variety of effective treatments available, people often also use complementary interventions, such as the use of trained PTSD service dogs. These service dogs perform specific tasks that help address PTSD symptoms, such as applying pressure to alleviate anxiety and nudging to interrupt flashbacks.​Previous research has found benefits of the PTSD service dogs such as reduced severity of symptoms, improved mental health, and improved social interactions. Now, new research takes an in-depth look at what makes the partnerships work and what characteristics lead to the most effective results. As with people and their companion dogs, the researchers note, each veteran-service dog partnership “is unique and multi-dimensional.”       (American Psychological Association (APA), 2022)

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Marquis Debois, First WarHawk Recipient,

Forward Observer, US Army

 Purdue University Study

A recent study led by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that the task of disrupting episodes of anxiety ranked among the most important and most often used. The study found that, on average, the dog’s training to both alert the veteran to any increasing anxiety and provide physical contact during anxiety episodes were reported to be the most important and the most often used in a typical day. Veterans with a service dog also rated all of the service dog’s trained tasks as being “moderately” to “quite a bit” important for their PTSD. 

Some trained tasks include picking up on cues veterans display when experiencing distress or anxiety and consequently nudging, pawing, or licking them to encourage the veteran to focus on the dog. The service dogs also are trained to notice when veterans are experiencing anxiety at night and will actively wake up the person from nightmares. The dogs also are trained to perform tasks in public – such as looking the opposite way in a crowded room or store to provide a sense of security for the veteran.

 Biden Signs Law in 2021 For Service Dogs

Researchers have been studying in recent years whether trained service dogs can help war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some results indicate that these working dogs can help lessen symptoms. Others have found that service dogs at least did not worsen or interfere with PTSD recovery in their owners. This growing body of evidence, along with ongoing advocacy efforts, has helped pave the way for recently passed legislation that creates a pilot program in which veterans struggling with PTSD will train and later keep service dogs.

President Joe Biden on Aug. 25, 2021 signed into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act (HR 1448/S 613) which requires the secretary of veterans affairs to establish a five-year program to provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD. The AVMA supported the legislation.

“We know service dogs are a proven life-changing and life-saving form of therapy for our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress,” said U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey in a statement.

“With this new law, we are addressing the high-cost barrier that prevents many from accessing these incredible dogs,” added Sherrill, a Navy veteran. ( American Veterinary Medical Association, 2021)

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