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Vets with Pets: Helping Soldiers with PTSD

We all think of our dogs as part of the family. They offer companionship, security, and endless happiness. But for some, a dog is so much more. For those returning home from war, a trained dog can be more than just a companion. It can be a lifesaver. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can take on many shapes and sizes, and affect some more than others. Some will come back home and struggle with everyday life. Dogs trained specifically as a PTSD service dog can make a world of difference.

A study was done by Purdue University that suggests service dogs help to improve the well-being of veterans suffering from PTSD. It is estimated that between 5%-20% of soldiers returning from war will suffer some form of PTSD. The Purdue study found that those with a service dog had better scores for psychological well-being, coping skills, and other measures of well-being.

With this study being the only concrete and measurable evidence of the positive effects of a service dog helping veterans, a second study was conducted. This one studied the relationship between a veteran having a service dog and the amount of cortisol the body produced. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that fuels the body’s flight or fight response and is often used as a physiological marker of stress. The vets that had a service dog produced cortisol amounts similar to healthy adults without PTSD.

There are many groups that train dogs to be qualified as a service dog. One group, K9s for Warriors, takes shelter dogs of almost any breed (as long as they’re 24” tall) and starts them on their path. They begin with basic obedience but then move on to more complex commands. For example, the command “block” helps the veteran get some personal space by having the dog standing sideways in front of them. Because crowds can often be a trigger for someone with PTSD, the command “cover” is the K9 version of having their six. The dog will position themselves behind the vet and warn of approaching people. The dog is also trained to pick up on signs of anxiety and will offer comfort when necessary.

There are some wonderful groups in Idaho and around the country that work to train and pair a dog with a vet. Training these dogs is time-consuming and expensive. If you can give, please consider one of the groups listed below.

Pets for Vets Boise -

Next Step Service Dogs -

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