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Easing anxiety is the top way PTSD service dogs can benefit veteran owners, study finds

Researchers say service dogs aren’t a cure-all, but they can improve overall quality of life

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Photo (c) Catalin Daniel Ciolca - Getty Images
While recent studies have found the ways pets can help consumers ease stress levels -- particularly in families with children with autism -- a new study is exploring how service dogs can benefit veterans. 

Researchers from Purdue University found that service dogs provide countless benefits to veterans struggling with PTSD, though dispelling anxiety is the number one benefit. 

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

Improving quality of life

The researchers conducted a survey of over 215 veterans for this study. They were looking to assess how the dogs were aiding the veterans on a daily basis and what kinds of specific roles the dogs were fulfilling. 

The study revealed that service dogs are trained to assist their owners in a myriad of ways. Whether in public, at home, or in the middle of the night, these dogs are always ready to help their owners through troubling experiences. 

The biggest takeaway from the study was that service dogs were most useful in helping their owners get through anxiety-ridden moments. Though the dogs can’t completely cure their owners of anxiety or make it go away forever, they’re trained to draw their owners’ attention away from the present, stressful moment. 

“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,” said Rodriguez. 

Having realistic expectations

The majority of the veterans interviewed for this study already had service dogs at home; however, the researchers also interviewed a group of over 80 veterans on a waiting list for a service dog. The researchers compared the responses of both groups of veterans and found that those on the waiting list were overly optimistic about the ways a service dog could help them. 

While the researchers don’t want to understate the benefits of a service dog, they do want to stress that these companions can’t cure PTSD alone. 

“Veterans on the waitlist may have higher expectations for a future PTSD service dog because of feelings of hope and excitement, which may not necessarily be a bad thing,” said Rodriguez. “However, it is important for mental health professionals to encourage realistic expectations to veterans who are considering getting a PTSD service dog of their own.” 

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