Two weeks after coming home Bob (a veteran) is driving down the highway with his dog Sam. Along the way he starts to remember going on patrols with his unit and the drives that they had. Then Sam starts licking Bob’s face and cuddling with him. This cheers Bob up and makes him feel calm. The panic attack that would have come while Bob was driving is no more.
PTSD can be caused by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks and panic attacks can all be symptoms of PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to interrupt these attacks and help their owners to bring out feelings of love and companionship.
Check out this video of a service dog (Gumbo) as he reacts to his owners feeling of stress:
What can a trained Service Dog do?
· Interrupt nightmares
· Interrupt panic attacks/ anxiety
· Help their owners with a feeling of calm. Help owners to reintegrate with society
· Keep strangers from getting close
· Video on how a service dog helped a Canadian Veteran to cope from PTSD:
Many breeds can be used as PTSD Service Dogs depending on the owner's needs. Most commonly used are Labs, Shepards, Golden's because of their calm disposition and emotional sensitivity. But for those who need a smaller companion, Poodles and Affenpinscher's can work well especially for those with Aviophobia (fear of flying).
How to get a PTSD service dog
· Patriot Paws - non-profit organization that trains and donates service dogs for disabled veterans.
· K9’s for Warriors – non-profit organization placing veterans with service dogs:
· For those who would like to train their own service dog, Companion Training offers video class’s so you can train your own dog from the comfort of your home.
· Many states have state specific organizations that will train and donate service dogs for free.
For more case studies on Veteran’s experience with Service Dogs check out these stories on Vdogs
Where can I bring my PTSD Service Dog?
As with all Service Dogs your companion can go to any business with you. You do not need to show the managers any papers or provide a reason why the dog is with you. The only exceptions to this rule are if:
1) The Service Dog is out of control and the animal’s handler does not try and take action
2) The animal is not housebroken
Many handlers can find it helpful to put a vest or ribbon on the dog denoting it as such. An official vest on an extremely well trained animal will allow you to roam freely with your buddy.
For more information on where to bring your service dog check out our article that goes over ADA regulations.
Can Service Dog's get PTSD? Can I adopt an ex-military dog?
Yes absolutely. Service dogs are tasked with the same conditions as soldiers. K-9’s can be used to sniff out bombs that machines and humans can’t. Check out this amazing article on Sergeant 1st class Mathew Bessler and his SD Mike. Upon Mike’s return he exhibited signs of PTSD, instead of chewing tennis balls, which he loved, he would chew rocks and destroy his teeth and gums.
After returning from service the dogs are held at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio where they were trained. If the SDs are deemed unfit by law enforcement agencies for further work, which is most often the case. The dog’s personal handler has the first priority in adopting, more than 90% of returning dogs are adopted by the handler. After that it opens up to civilian adopters. In fact, the dogs are so popular that the list of applicants is 18 months to 2 years long.
For more info on next steps to adoption call Lackland AFB at: (210) 671-3376
Words of Caution
· Make sure that you are getting your PTSD dog from an accredited business like those listed above. Many organizations will label service dogs as such without the proper training or breeding.
· While a service dog may help people with PTSD to reintegrate back into society, there is a chance that owners might come to believe that they can’t do tasks without the dog. For example: if a victim can only walk in a crowded place knowing that the dog is there to comfort him, it may become difficult/ impossible for the owner to learn that he can do this on his own.
PTSD Service Dogs can be incredible for veterans and others. It only takes a simple search online to see heart-wrenching stories of the value these animals bring in peoples lives.