Research study proves service dogs reduce anxiety in veterans

But the results might still surprise you.

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A recent study conducted by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrates which trained tasks performed by veteran’s service dogs are the most useful to veterans with PTSD. 

According to Newton County Enterprise, In the past, the underlying reasons behind the benefits service dogs provide for veterans with PTSD was not entirely clear, but Purdue’s recent study has made the precise benefits of service dogs a little less murky. 

The study found that, in addition to a few of the trained tasks the dogs were taught to complete, the untrained tasks brought about by the dog-owner relationship were just as useful and important to the owners with PTSD. 

In the study, the dog’s training to alert the veteran to their increasing anxiety and redirect their attention to the dog by nudging, pawing, or licking was reported as the most important and most frequently used function of the dog. However, the relationship between the dog and owner was reported as nearly as important as the trained alert. 

“There has been some debate on what kind of training PTSD service dogs need to be effective and how their assistance may be different than what a pet dog can provide,” said Kerri Rodriguez, a human-animal interaction graduate student and a lead author on the study. 

“This study suggests that veterans are, in fact, using and benefiting from the specific trained tasks, which sets these dogs apart from pet dogs or emotional support dogs.”

The Purdue study of 216 veterans and their service dogs also shows that the trained service dogs tasks were used an average of 3.16 times a day, whereas the untrained behaviors were used an average of 1.36 to 5.05 times a day. 

“These service dogs offer valuable companionship, provide joy and happiness, and add structure and routine to veterans’ lives that are likely very important for veterans’ PTSD,” Rodriguez explained. 

Although it seems clear that service dogs are extremely helpful for veterans with PTSD, the study also shows that there are some symptoms with which the service dog does not help, such as PTSD-induced amnesia and risk taking. 

“Both this research, as well as other related studies on PTSD service dogs, suggest that service dogs are not a standalone cure for PTSD,” said Maggie O’Haire, associate professor of human-animal interaction.

“Rather, there appear to be specific areas of veterans’ lives that a PTSD service dog can help as a complementary intervention to other evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”

 While service dogs prove to be helpful, “it is important for mental health professionals to encourage realistic expectations to veterans who are considering getting a PTSD service dog of their own,” Rodriguez concluded. 

For more information on service dogs, guide dogs, and ‘life buddies,’ please visit our partner Sierra Delta at their website here.

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