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Service Dogs for PTSD

13 February, 2019

According to the American Disabilities Act, or ADA for short, service animals must be trained to work or perform tasks for a disabled person to qualify as a service animal. PTSD dogs are a type of service dog that specializes in handling a person with any significant trauma. These dogs have rights to all public access areas and are individually trained to work with people with PTSD. Trainers authorized by Assistance Dogs International and organizations that follow the standards set by the ADI train these dogs with specific requirements in mind. Each dog is trained according to these standards, and those who will work with people with PTSD will need additional training according to the person’s needs. These dogs provide a lifetime of support, helping ease people with PTSD.

What kind of services do PTSD Dogs provide?

Service dogs handle people with disabilities by acting concerning that person’s needs, whether that person is blind, deaf, or severely disabled. PTSD Dogs bring a sense of love, provide good companionship, take orders when trained, help reduce stress, and help the individual meet new people. These dogs can individually act, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, by:

  • Assisting in medical crises
  • Assisting in treatment by subtle reminders
  • Giving the individual a sense of security
  • Helping the individual handle emotional trauma through companionship

According to researchers in the Department of Defense, this is believed to be caused by the presence of oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes bonding and trust, as it occurs when people come in contact with babies, dogs, and other cute creatures. This boost of oxytocin can help people living with PTSD by putting them at ease and making them more responsive to therapy as a result. PTSD dogs can be beneficial, but whether or not these dogs align with emotional support dogs is still being questioned, according to the VA.

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How effective are PTSD Service Dogs at treating PTSD?

Many studies related to service dogs show the benefits service dogs have regarding physical disabilities. However, studies on how beneficial service dogs are for mental health are still being determined through various studies. For instance, studies from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense suggest that service dogs can benefit traumatized soldiers. However, those results come with limited validation, and future trails can only further help negate the questions that remain and give a better understanding of the psychology of how PTSD dogs treat people with PTSD. Studies from Purdue University show that there is a lack of empirical research on the effectiveness of PTSD service dogs, resulting in mixed model results. However, the conclusion of the study proved that PTSD dogs could serve as a “meaningful improvement” for those with PTSD.

Are PTSD Dogs just for Veterans?

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A service dog can be any breed. You can either train your own service dog or work with an accredited trainer.

Most studies involving PTSD dogs centralize around veterans. However, experts in the field state that these service dogs can be beneficial for those with non-military related PTSD, including sexual-assault victims and those who have experienced significant traumas such as car accidents and accidental fires. However, official studies have been limited in results and need further trials to prove useful. While the ADI has specific instructions for military veterans to gain access to service dogs, those who are non-military can apply for a service dog through any approved service dog training organization that has taken the ADI standardization test. You can also adopt a dog from a shelter and train them yourself to provide a service for your disability if you do not have the means to apply through a service dog training organization. 

Even with the research involving veterans, PTSD dogs don’t earn the same VA coverage as other service dogs would. While the VA covers veterinary care for service dogs that assist veterans with physical disabilities, the VA doesn’t do that for PTSD service dogs. Any treatment within the VA only includes therapies such as exposure therapy, cognitive therapy, and desensitization therapy. As for others with PTSD, those who have the medical documentation can receive a specially trained service dog for PTSD through applying at any chosen trainer organization.

How do I gain a PTSD Dog?

Any service dog, including PTSD service dogs, follow under the guidelines of the ADA, which state that service dogs have legal access to all public areas as long as they are appropriately leashed and controlled by their handler. PTSD service dogs usually cost on average $20,000 or more, depending on the organization, and finding the right organization to purchase a service dog can be difficult due to the lack of federal regulation on training and accreditation. While the ADI does not provide trained service dogs, it only provides guidelines for trainers and individuals to follow and a database for accredited members to search. Once you find the right organization or trainer for you, you can go through their application process and work with the trainers to help you find the service dog for you. You may also train your dog yourself if you are unable to pay the fees to specially train your dog through a trainer. 

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