How Service Dogs Are Helping PTSD

Over the years, there have been lots of studies about how dogs are good for people.

Dogs and other kinds of pets can:

  • Keep your blood pressure down
  • Help you fight off depression
  • Make you feel less isolated
  • Enhance your mood
  • Motivate you to exercise
  • Build up your immunity

All of these things that dogs provide their companions with can help people who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

Veterans and PTSD Care

The particular group that has been recently studied for the effects of PTSD and how dogs can help with it are veterans who are suffering from PTSD after returning from war.  Many of these veterans are particularly susceptible to PTSD.  Many have anxiety related to their war experiences.  They can believe that in every crowd and behind every tree, there is someone or something waiting to harm them in some way.  These are common problems for our returning soldiers.  The transition back to civilian life is difficult and PTSD is very common. Many methods for helping PTSD victims are being explored.

Sometimes for these veterans, medications and traditional therapies prove to not be enough.  The horrors that they experienced have left scars that run deep and are not easily healed.  Studies are being down even now with specially trained dogs who are helping former soldiers make this transition back to civilian life a little easier.  These dogs are helping them feel safe.

How Are Service Dogs Helping PTSD Victims?

There are many tasks that a service dog can help with in order to combat the PTSD in his or her owner.  Service dogs can be trained to:

  • Look around corners and behind barriers to check for potential threats
  • Turn on lights
  • Awake a handler if he or she is having a nightmare
  • Guide his or her owner should the handler become disoriented or confused
  • Locate the family of the handler should they become separated
  • Signal to certain sounds such as smoke alarms
  • Bring help with the appropriate command
  • Remind handlers to take medication or bring emergency medication
  • Identify hallucinations
  • Offer emotional behaviors such as licking, snuggling, or hugging on command

According to Psychology Today, there are many reasons why dogs are the perfect companions for people who suffer from PTSD.  My favorite reason is that dogs give unconditional love.  They will be your best friend forever.  Military people often return home to find that the skills they have learned and have been using for the length of their deployment are not applicable in their home lives.  They find that their skills do not guarantee them anything in the civilian world.  Dogs give handlers love and respect regardless of their skills and regardless of how everyone else reacts toward them.

Because of this potential let-down and because PTSD suffers often have trouble with trusting people, dogs can help them learn to trust again.  Dogs are incredibly trustworthy creatures and will be there for their handlers no matter what.  This can help the handler recognize that the civilian world is much different from the world of war and that, for the most part, danger does not lie around every corner.

One of the best things about dogs that can help PTSD suffers is that dogs are vigilant.  PTSD sufferers know that they are never alone when they have a dog with them.  Often, service dog handlers feel hesitant or unsure about their environments.  Dogs can help provide a secure feeling when handlers are without human companionship.

Since these particular PTSD sufferers come from the military the fact that dogs respond to authority can be very helpful.  Since the military is based entirely on giving and getting orders to which soldiers are expected to respond without questions, returning veterans may find it difficult to transition back into situations where this is not the case.  Most civilians do not operate like that, but dogs do.