Therapy dogs are not only cute, they act as proverbial angels sent to guide our Veterans after they come home from war. It’s not surprising that a furry pup can help lift a veterans’ spirits, but have you ever wondered just how service dogs assist war veterans at home?
Research from Purdue University shows that veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) feel better physically and mentally if they have a service dog around them as opposed to those veterans who have to wait to receive a service pup.
When military veterans come home from war, between 5 percent and 20 percent of them suffer from PTSD. But when they receive a service dog, they report significantly fewer symptoms of the mental trauma including better scores for psychological well-being, coping skills and other measures. Thus far, it’s the best evidence we have that suggests psychiatric service dogs can reduce PTSD in vets — pretty amazing to say the least!
The author of the study, Kerri Rodriguez, mentions that veterans who were in homes with service dogs produced more cortisol in the mornings than those on the waitlist.
According to Rodriguez, the pattern is closer to the cortisol profile expected in healthy adults who don’t have PTSD.
Another fun fact; having a service dog was associated with less anger, less anxiety and improved sleep.
The study was performed with the organization, K9s for Warriors, who provide service dogs to military veterans who suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or other military traumas.
K9 for Warriors also uses shelter dogs and trains them to become service dogs for those in need. The dogs range from Labradors, Golden Retrievers and mixed-breed dogs. They must be at least 24 inches tall. Their training sees them learn special commands that are designed to help veterans of PTSD. The command “block” means to help veterans receive personal space by standing sideways in front of them. People who suffer from PTSD are often hypervigilant of their surroundings in public, so the word “cover” allows the dog position themselves behind the veteran. If someone approaches behind them, the dog will bark. The dogs are even trained to notice signs of anxiety to comfort and calm veterans in times of need.
Veterans who are assigned a dog, go to a three-week training course that shows them how to take care of their dogs and maintain their training.
Paws for Purple Hearts is another organization that pairs veteran with PTSD to service dogs such as Labradors and golden retrievers. The program, launched in 2008, arranges for veterans to spend six weeks with dogs. The veterans help train them to be a mobility-assistance-animal for a physically disabled veteran.
The results show that service dogs can offer so much to veterans in-need and vice versa. A longitudinal trial that is underway to show more clear evidence if dogs can help cure PTSD for good. While we eagerly await the results, it’s good to hear that these dogs bless so many of us with their good vibes. Dogs really are human’s best friend.