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PTSD & Service Animals

What is PTSD?  PTSD stands for posttraumatic stress disorder. It is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. These events can range anywhere from war/military combat to a serious accident, and can impact each individual differently. PTSD affects millions of Americans each year and does not discriminate against age, gender or race. 

People diagnosed with PTSD experience intense emotional reactions surrounding a traumatic event that last long after the event has passed. PTSD can manifest in people by eliciting panic attacks, mood swings, flashbacks, night terrors, intense emotional reactions, and detachment from others and the world. 

Service dogs have been growing in popularity as one of the many tools to help treat PTSD. A service dog can help cope with the trauma related to the triggering event and can provide a sense of security and support for the individual while going out in public. These amazingly smart animals can help the individual work through their fear and anxiety by being trained to create a physical barrier between their handlers and the public, use a stress reducing pressure technique, and open up more social engagement opportunities with others. In addition to the services listed above, these dogs can also be trained to perform a variety of tasks and provide other increased health benefits, which are listed below. 

  • Help provide “psycho-emotional grounding.” This is performed to help ease distress by nudging, pawing and leaning.
  • Help wake the individual from night terrors or flashbacks
  • Wake the individual if they are sleeping too much
  • Distract the individual from an event
  • Bring medication to the handler
  • Create personal space for the individual in a crowd
  • Help the individual exit a building safely during an anxiety attack
  • Retrieve another person for help
  • Remind their handler to perform their daily tasks
  • Provide reassurance to the handler
  • Help reduce anxiety and stress
  • Help lessen emotional reactions
  • Help minimize pain
  • Reduce feelings of isolation
  • Increase serotonin levels
  • Lower blood pressure

PTSD service dogs provide a very important service for individuals in need and are protected under the American Disabilities Act.  These specially trained dogs do so much more than just alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD. They offer constant companionship, increased self-sufficiency, and provide a better quality of life for the individual living with this disorder.