Dogs & PTSD Patients

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an extreme condition triggered by natural disasters, war, and sexual or physical assault, among other traumatic events. It is accompanied by lasting consequences and causes varying forms of radical behavior, along with feelings of shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and guilt.

PTSD has become extremely prevalent among victims of war. Though is has likely affected active soldiers and veterans since the beginning of warfare, it has only recently emerged as a disorder that requires extensive care, far beyond the previous solution of merely taking men and women out of the front lines.

Today, many forms of therapy and cures have emerged, but one particular one has sparked a great amount of interest and conversation. Animalassisted therapy or ATT is an intervention for PTSD patients, which incorporates animals as a role in a therapeutic or ameliorative process. Through a triangulated, three phase qualitative content analysis research design, evidence has indicated that victims suffer from much greater symptoms and side-effects than those with dogs.

Veterans expressed the drastic changes in their mental states according to whether or not they owned a dog. Prior to receiving a dog, soldiers described a constant state of hypervigilance, incalculable arousal, exhaustion, depression, isolation, and oftentimes, contemplation of suicide. Post-dog ownership experiences demonstrate a much different and improved mental state. After adopting dogs, veterans discussed the close bonds that they formed with their dogs, providing them with reassurance and comfort, and relieving the mental anguish that they were previously haunted with.

So, what is it that dogs possess that humans do not, which enables them to heal the complex and extreme conditions of PTSD? According to the veterans who were surveyed, these adopted dogs accepted them without judgement, emmitting a sense of openness. Most importantly, the dogs offered protection and security, which relieved them of any memories or fears of past traumatic experiences.

What resulted from these findings was an extraordinary movement, based off of the theory that dogs “Nudge veterans back to reality,” commemorating the role dogs fulfill in ameliorating contemporary veterans’ PTSD symptoms.” Three subthemes expand upon this movement, which elaborate on the essential needs that service dogs fulfill: 1. The need for safety, 2. The need for affiliation, and 3. Succourane. With the evolution of these realizations and discoveries, service dogs today are trained to fulfill the needs that are specific to their owners. For example, one soldier was constantly fearful of facing the reality of the world outside of his house before he adopted his dog Spot, who “became [his] lifeline to the outside world.”

Studies on service dogs’ effects on PTSD patients still has room for improvement, and PTSD continues to bring hardship to many individuals and families. However, these discoveries have offered great insight on how dogs are socially and psychologically beneficial for PTSD patients, and help in their readjustments back to reality.