How Service Dogs Help Our Veterans
Many veterans return from their service with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms range from panic attacks to nightmares and can lead to feelings of depression and isolation. A variety of PTSD treatments are available, but recent studies have found service dogs can help veterans cope and work through their mental health issues.
The Role of Service Dogs
Historically, service dogs have been trained to help individuals with physical handicaps, like mobility, hearing or vision issues. The Veterans Administration does work to pair veterans with such issues with appropriately trained service dogs. However, the VA does not currently use service dogs to treat PTSD. A number of private organizations are stepping up to fill this need and help veterans heal and adjust to life with the help of a canine companion.
Healing Starts with Training
Programs, like Veterans K-9 Solutions, rescue dogs from shelters to train as service dogs. The veteran owners are involved in the training of their service dogs right from the start. Training a dog helps veterans work on communication skills. Working with the dogs improves the veteran’s focus and instills a sense of responsibility.
Service Dogs at Work
Veterans are often plagued by feelings of isolation and depression. These feelings can continue to worsen if left untreated. Dogs can help pull veterans out of the darkness and overcome feelings of anxiety and numbness.
Dogs trained to assist PTSD sufferers learn to sense an oncoming panic attack and wake their owner from a nightmare. They know to help maintain their owner’s personal space in public settings to prevent feelings of anxiety or claustrophobia. The dogs also offer a soothing presence that can help the veteran regain control of a situation.
On the Lookout
Hypervigilance is a common symptom of PTSD in which the sufferer is always alert and fearful of their surroundings. A service dog can help by standing watch and having the veterans back when they are in public places, like in line at an ATM. Hypervigilance can also interfere with rest and disrupt sleep patterns. Dogs are naturally alert and routinely get up during the night to check things out, which some vets report provides peace of mind and allows them to rest.
Finding the Right Dog
Many organizations all across the country are working to match veterans with service dogs to help them lead fulfilling and happy lives. Additional research on this topic is underway, but to date, several studies and thousands of veterans can attest to the life-changing value service dogs bring to the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD.
At Clear Path for Veterans New England offers a Dog2Vets program that works with local veterans. It is an opportunity for Veterans and their families to participate in dog training whether the activity is to provide skills to the family pet to alleviate stress or to work towards a fully ADA certified support dog. To learn more about the Dog2Vets program click here.