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How Do Service Dogs Help With Ptsd

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New Law Provides For Service Dogs For Veterans With Ptsd

Do service dogs help veterans with PTSD?

Malinda Larkin

Researchers have been studying in recent years whether trained service dogs can help war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some results indicate that these working dogs can help lessen symptoms. Others have found that service dogs at least did not worsen or interfere with PTSD recovery in their owners. This growing body of evidence, along with ongoing advocacy efforts, has helped pave the way for recently passed legislation that creates a pilot program in which veterans struggling with PTSD will train and later keep service dogs.

President Joe Biden on Aug. 25 signed into law the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act that requires the secretary of veterans affairs to establish a five-year program to provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD. The AVMA supported the legislation.

We know service dogs are a proven life-changing and life-saving form of therapy for our veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, said U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey in a statement.

With this new law, we are addressing the high-cost barrier that prevents many from accessing these incredible dogs, added Sherrill, a Navy veteran.

Service Dog Training Basics

Service dogs are amazing for anyone facing a disability as they act as a source of aid in a time of need. They can help out with many disabilities including physical disabilities such as loss of a limb, loss of sight or hearing, or any other impairing disability. Service dogs can also be used for nonvisible cases like diabetes, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and anxiety.

Service dogs are not pets, and they will most likely not meet the qualifications of a service dog if they have ever been a pet . Service dog training is no joke and most service dogs are trained from their early years by professionals to be service dogs and then matched with an appropriate companion who will benefit from their dog’s service. Because of this, some service dog trainers have waiting lists full of qualified individuals.

To obtain a service dog one must have a physical disability or debilitating illness or disorder, be able to care for the dog and be able to partake in training as to command the dog.

It is true that there is no ADA requirement for dogs to be vested or IDed in any way, however, many people feel more comfortable having dog ID cards and vests to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

A true service dog is legally able to go anywhere the general public is allowed according to the ADA guidelines. The dog must be

State And Federal Laws For Service Dogs

Regardless of what specific tasks a service dog performs, once it can reliably perform at least one disability-mitigating task, it is considered a service dog. That means the provisions of the ADA apply and need to be enforced.

Any state or local law that attempts to countermand, or make more restrictive, any provision of the ADA is essentially unenforceable because when state or local laws do not align with federal law, federal law takes priority.

However, state police officers are only charged with enforcing state, not federal, laws. Therefore, if an establishment refuses a service dog team entry, and the situation is not covered by existing state laws, the only recourse available is to file a complaint with the Department of Justice, or file a suit in federal court.

If there are state laws in place to protect the rights of service dog teams, it is possible that the employee or establishment has in fact committed a misdemeanor and can be fined. This is why knowing applicable state laws, as well as the ADA, is imperative.

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What Are The Differences

Lets first clarify the difference between a therapy dog, an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog .

  • A Therapy Dog is someones pet that has been tested for its social temperament, trained to be well behaved and registered with a therapy dog organization. A therapy dog provides comfort to people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools or other institutions. Most therapy dog owners are volunteers. Therapy dogs are NOT Service Dogs and do not have public access rights.

  • Emotional Support Animals provide comfort to their owners simply by being present. They have not been specifically trained for any particular task. Although they are grouped with service dogs when it comes to housing laws, emotional support dogs do NOT have public access rights.

  • According to ADA laws, to be a Service Dog, their handler must have a disability and the dog must be specifically trained to alleviate such disability. Having a mental illness is an impairment, but being unable to function on a minimal level because of mental illness is a disability. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do something to help with the persons disability. In other words, the dog allows the handler to overcome or improve his/her ability to function. A PSD might for instance counterbalance a handler because he/she is dizzy because of medication, interrupt panic attacks or OCD behaviors, turn lights on, etc.

How Ptsd Service Dogs Help Veterans

Service Dogs For Veterans With PTSD

Studies prove that having a trained animal companion helps those who struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders to cope with the overwhelming symptoms. This is true for veterans as well. PTSD service dogs are often a great resource for veterans to rely on for a sense of security as they work their way through therapy for PTSD, addiction, and other mental health conditions.

If you or your loved one is a veteran who is struggling with conditions like PTSD and addiction, the right kind of treatment is out there for you to heal. Learn more below about treating PTSD through service animals, other unique therapy approaches, and veteran-focused care.


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Adopt A Positive State Of Mind And A Calm Attitude

Dogs are very receptive to the way we are on a daily basis. If youre upset or worried, your dog will sense it and will reflect your mood and state of mind.

Instead, be calm and reassuring. If your dog senses your confidence, shell feel much better in your company. Shell feel safe and will stop being so vigilant, trying to be ready for whatever may happen. When youre happy, shes happy.

Veterans With Ptsd Could Get Service Dogs From Va Under New Law

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will allow some veterans with mental health conditions to receive service dogs.

The new law orders the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary to develop and launch a five-year pilot program that provides service dog training to benefit veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Previously, the VA only covered some costs of service dogs for veterans with certain physical disabilities, such as blindness, hearing impairment and mobility issues but not mental health conditions.

Biden signed the bill in the Oval Office. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who led the legislation through Congress, attended the ceremony.

Ive had the chance to visit with veterans and their service dogs in my district, and it couldnt be clearer how service dogs make life better for our veterans, Slotkin said in a statement Wednesday. From waking them from PTSD-related nightmares, helping them open doors, or finding an exit in a crowded space, it can be transformational.

The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, or PAWS Act, requires the VA to start the pilot program in early 2022, and it must be carried out by at least five VA medical centers. The facilities will partner with accredited service dog organizations to perform the training.

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Do Service Dogs Really Help With Ptsd A New Study Has Answers

Army veteran Randy Dexter doesnt need an academic study to tell him what he already knows that his service dog, Captain, is the reason hes no longer the suicidal mess he was after returning home from war with PTSD.

Nevertheless, new research backs him up.

A study by Purdue University researchers, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychologyin February, shows veterans who had service dogs to help with their diagnosed cases of PTSD were much better off psychologically than their peers who were on a waiting list to receive an animal.

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Vets with service dogs reported a 22 percent higher rate of life satisfaction, as well as similarly increased rates of mental health, resilience and ability to participate in social activities. At the same time, they indicated having fewer PTSD symptoms and lower levels of depression, according to researchers Marguerite OHaire and Kerri Rodriguez of the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine, who told Military Times their study uses the largest sample size of any published research on this topic.

The researchers partnered with the nonprofit K9s for Warriors for the study, using self-reported data from 141 veterans who had either received or applied for a dog from the organization. All had unrestricted access to usual care for PTSD during the study.

Dexter, 35, credits Captain with saving him from the isolation and depression he felt before getting a service animal.

How Should I Interact With Someone With A Ptsd Service Dog Or Emotional Support Dog

How Can Service Dogs Help Individuals with TBI and PTSD?

Because PTSD is an invisible disorder like diabetes or hearing loss, seeing an individual with a service or emotional support dog who seems perfectly healthy on the outside might be confusing in public. For military veterans suffering from PTSD, it is often very hurtful and personal to be asked what the dog “does” for them. In order to respect the privacy of the handler, it is poor etiquette to ask personal questions about their disability.

If you see a service dog or emotional support dog working in public, be respectful and do not approach or pet the dog without permission. Many veterans with a service dog are willing to answer respectful questions about their dogs, but you should not assume that this is always the case. Those with a service or emotional support dog out in public are just going about their business like anyone else and might be too busy or unwilling to engage with everyone who approaches.

For service dogs only, the ADA states that employees of public areas may ask only two specific questions to a service dog handler:

  • “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
  • “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

Staff are not allowed to ask for any documentation, ask for the service dog to demonstrate any tasks that they are trained to do, or ask about the handler’s specific disability.

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Tasks A Ptsd Service Dog Can Help With

PTSD service dogs tasks and responsibilities can vary from offering reassurance to noticing oncoming panic or anxiety. There is an extensive range of tasks that a service dog can be trained to perform. Some of these tasks include:

  • Performing alert tasks, such as alerting to the onset of a panic attack or the need to take a medication
  • Providing a distraction from a flashback or dissociation
  • Guiding to an exit or away from a triggering environment
  • Providing distraction or an excuse to leave an anxiety-inducing situation
  • Helping find medical assistance if required

These tasks highlight some of the functional ways that service dogs help with PTSD. These tasks can help a person attend events or complete activities that they would not otherwise be equipped to perform. A service dog can assist with certain therapeutic activities, like taking medications or removing a person from a triggering situation, but can also offer emotional support and reassurance that better allows them to deal with their trauma.

Where Service Dogs Can Be Excluded

Per the ADA, service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers into essentially any space that is open to the public, including restaurants and grocery stores . Service dogs are even allowed into hospital exam rooms and patient rooms.

The only exceptions to full public access would be areas that the dogs presence would compromise the health and safety of others, such as hospital operating rooms and burn units where a sterile field might be negatively impacted by the dogs presence.

Service dogs may also be excluded from certain areas under the fundamental alteration clause of the ADA, which states that if a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations provided by the business entity, the business does not need to change its policies.

For example, a consistently barking dog would alter the services provided by a concert hall. At that point, an employee may ask that the dog be removed. However, an employee may not preemptively bar entry to a service dog team based on the concern that the dog might bark. Service dogs may also be required to leave if they are not housebroken or if they are out of control and the owner has not effectively gained control of the animal.

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How Does A Ptsd Service Dog Help Veterans

The specific tasks that a PTSD service dog learns to do depends on the veterans individual needs and experiences. For example, veterans who have a physical disability from their time serving as well as PTSD, their service dog will most likely help with physical mobility in addition to emotional needs.

Generally, a PTSD service dog is trained to perform tasks that relate to PTSD symptoms. This means that a PTSD service dog could:

  • Act as a guide through crowded spaces
  • Remind owners to take PTSD medications
  • Sound out a warning as the owner starts experiencing PTSD symptoms or a panic attack
  • Provide emotional support when owner is having a panic attack
  • Give comfort during therapy sessions

PTSD service dogs are often comforting companions for veterans who feel misunderstood and out of place after returning from active duty, but they also act as a useful resource for veterans to make it through PTSD triggers, flashbacks, and other challenges. PTSD service dogs work hard to know their owners with every sense they have so that they can help them lead a healthier, happier life.

Symptoms Of Ptsd In Dogs

Can Dogs Experience Trauma: PTSD in Dogs

In humans, PTSD manifests through a series of thoughts, memories or dreams. This is because the problem is one that manifests at a cerebral level. The same happens in dogs only our companions cannot explain whats happening to them.

A dog suffering from PTSD-like symptoms will show changes in her behavior. Usually, these changes are of a negative nature, as theyre fueled by stress and discomfort. PTSD can even lead to aggressiveness triggered by fear and stress.

A dog suffering from PTSD may become less trustful when around new people. She might become shy, preferring to hide instead of seeking human company. Such a dog may also be vigilant in an excessive manner. Any changes in her surroundings might make her raise her guard.

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Why Do Veterans Need Ptsd Service Dogs

Military veterans and service members returning from active duty often find it challenging to adjust to civilian life, especially when going through the trials of PTSD. As stated above, the symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating and include:

For a lot of veterans, the symptoms of PTSD are so extreme and uncomfortable that they avoid all situations that could trigger these sensations. Many veterans end up engaging in risky behaviors, resorting to alcohol or drugs to cope with the discomfort. Military personnel may also cope by isolating themselves from family, friends, and public situations.

But as a result of this, veterans dont end up getting the mental health care that they need. Unfortunately, the rates of suicide in veterans is much higher than the general population and it has become a leading cause of death for military veterans in America.

Getting treatment for PTSD, substance use, and other related mental health conditions can save the life of a veteran in need. This is where veteran-focused treatment and service dog assistance can be incredibly helpful. Having a PTSD service dog means that you will have a comforting, trained resource right by your side to help you fight the symptoms of PTSD.

How Can Dogs Help Ptsd Patients

Spending time with a dog can help you feel happy, thus boosting focus and relieving stress. The pet therapy is highly effective for patients with PTSD. The therapy is helpful in managing various symptoms such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, etc.

Here are the major reasons why PTSD patients should go for animal-assisted therapy over traditional treatments-

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What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to carry out a wide range of tasks. Not only can they be trained to tune in to their handlers state of mind, but they can learn specific commands that are vital in emergency situations. These include things like calming their handler, fetching an item, or alerting them to danger. Below are a few of the key tasks that psychiatric service dogs perform.

Products To Support A Ptsd Dog

PTSD Service Dogs for Veterans

While service dog trainers will often help outfit a service dog, if you are training them yourself or simply need items for their arrival, check below. Although there is no requirement for a service dog to be “labeled”, it is often helpful and will save the handlers having to explain repeatedly what their dog does. The patches, harness, etc. are self-explanatory.

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