Therapy Dogs for PTSD Sufferers

English: Cases of PTSD and Severe Depression A...
Cases of PTSD and Severe Depression Among U.S. Veterans Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan Between Oct 2001 and Oct 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What one thing can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immune system and make you feel like getting out there and exercising? Answer—a dog. (Okay, I admit cats, horses and some other pets can do it too, but this blog is about dogs.) Some dog trainers and scientists have taken it one step further—training dogs to help PTSD patients reduce their symptoms and reclaim their lives.  


One of my wonderful readers from last week left me a comment regarding this training program so I decided to do a little research. An on-going study, managed by the James Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Florida, has paired 17 dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD. The service dog and veteran must successfully complete a training program accredited by the International Guide Dog Association or Assistance Dogs International.


English: training guide dog puppy in Israel
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each dog is trained to meet the specific needs of the person it’s paired with. Some tasks dogs might be required to perform for a patient suffering with PTSD include sensing anxiety, waking and calming their owners in case of nightmares or flashbacks, turning on lights or checking out dark rooms, moving through crowded spaces or retrieving personal items.

These dogs serve the veteran just by being dogs, too. Dogs need care, food, water, exercise. The patient benefits simply from shifting their focus to the dog and its needs. In fact, one PTSD sufferer found his anxiety and the medication he needed to sleep was reduced by 50% within only one week of receiving a service dog.

In addition, dogs are the ultimate in unconditional love. They don’t care if we’re scarred, or walk with a limp or need a wheelchair to get around. They accept us just the way we are. It doesn’t get much better than having a calm, comforting friend beside us when we’re feeling anxious. Especially if that friend has super hearing, a nose that can sniff out a two-day old rabbit trail, a built-in warning system and big teeth!


Injuries incurred by service members are cover...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s the good news. The bad news is the Department of Veterans Affairs recently issued a 67 page rule that says the VA will pay service dog benefits to veterans with vision, hearing or mobility-related injuries, but not to veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental health disabilities. The VA claims there’s not enough evidence that the dogs actually provide a benefit.

It’s estimated there are over 200,000 PTSD sufferers in the United States, with more coming home from overseas every day. If a scientific study is what the VA needs, it seems like there would be plenty of volunteers in that group, and they could take a big bite out of the pet overpopulation problem at the same time.

The program to provide dogs is currently on hold while the study in Tampa comprised of the 17 dogs and veterans already paired will continue. Meanwhile, the estimated 3,000 PTSD sufferers who are hospitalized for treatment every month will continue to be medicated—sleeping pills, anxiety medications, anti-depressants and tranquilizers.

Is it just me, or is there something wrong here?


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9 Responses to Therapy Dogs for PTSD Sufferers

  1. Oh, there’s something wrong all right. The sufferers of PTSD are being ignored because you can’t visually “see” they have no leg or have had brain surgery or whatever typical “medical” reasons for offering them benefits. Since when are people with mental disorders not allowed benefits. Instead of paying out all the money on drugs and counseling, why not put that money toward training a dog to help these people? Completely ignorant and typical government b.s.

  2. Dixie Brown says:

    That’s so true. And isn’t it sad that those people who should be honored as heroes are being treated like they’re trying to pull a fast one on the government they just gave everything to so they can…what? Get a free dog?

    Thanks for your comment, Patti.

  3. Lorraine says:

    Isn’t it a shame that common sense isn’t that common? Great article, Dixie!

  4. Dixie Brown says:

    Thanks, Lorraine. I’m afraid there’s nothing resembling common sense in bureaucracy!

  5. Godwin Carmona says:

    If a citizen was courageous enough to serve in the military and put themselves in harm’s way in defense of their country and its people, it is indeed a travesty to not at the very least explore and entertain all possibilities in healing whatever damage was incurred to their being in that service…whether it be PHYSICAL, MENTAL or EMOTIONAL. Why must the default for PTSD sufferers be medications where the potential for detriment in the form of addiction or side effects is great? It would seem such courageous service deserves a fervor to seek out the best methods for healing. The incredible loyalty and unconditional love shown by dogs would seem like a natural, obvious way to help veterans struggling with PTSD. It is a shame that an inability to think out of the box has thrown up roadblocks. Hopefully, the required studies will quickly reveal the benefits so that the Dept of Veteran Affairs can be freed of their narrowmindedness in this regard.

  6. Dixie Brown says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Godwin. The depth of your feelings for these courageous service men and women is obvious in your comment. There’s always hope as long as there are people like you willing to stand up and say ‘this is a travesty.’

  7. Dorothy says:

    Part of the problem is that our ‘all volunteer’ military comes from a small portion of the population. Most people with power to do something about this do not have their loved ones in the service so it doesn’t even register on their radar. It’s like the returning soldiers are invisible and so are their problems. So it’s up to us to contact our congressmen & senators demanding that they get the VA moving.

  8. Dixie Brown says:

    What a surprise – things are weigted in favor of the rich and powerful! Luckily, I can do letters to the powers that be. Thanks for your insightful comment, Dorothy. And welcome home!

  9. jery says:

    I am a 30 yr retired OEF vet and everyone here at the VA where I live agrees that I am more likeable with animals yet I am not sick yet I have a letter from my shrink that says I am

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