Military Connection: The Role of Service Dogs in PTSD


By Debbie Gregory.

As a life-long dog owner, I can attest to the fact that dogs bring great comfort to us humans. Now research is under way to identify the role that service dogs can play in alleviating the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

Leading a study at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Marguerite O’Haire, an assistant professor of human-animal interaction, is working with 100 Post-9/11 Veterans with PTSD. The study is looking to see if a specially trained dog can influence medical symptoms, social anxiety, relationships and more.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to provide service dogs to those struggling with mental health disorders. But many non-profit groups, such as K9s For Warriors, Sam Simon Foundation, Patriot Paws, Hero Dogs, and many more, have been stepping up to fill the need.

For her study, O’Haire is working with K9s For Warriors. Executive Director Rory Diamond said 92 percent K9’s graduates report that they are able to reduce their medications or stop taking them altogether within six months of graduating from the three-week dog pairing course.

Up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD and combat-related depression.

Dogs trained to assist people with PTSD learn a range of tasks, such as standing in front of or behind them to fend off crowds or approaching people, waking a person from a nightmare or “sweeping” a room for other people before a handler enters. Some dogs can be taught to recognize early signs of anxiety in their partners and to give an alert, thereby re-focusing their partner, who can then use strategies they have been taught to cope with the situation.

An emotional support dog is a very well behaved pet that provides love, companionship and affection. But an emotional support dog is not trained to handle tasks related to PTSD.

Hopefully, the study will reveal what most dog lovers already know; there is no better medicine than a cold nose and a warm, furry friend.

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Military Connection: The Role of Service Dogs in PTSD: by Debbie Gregory