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Mental Health

How man’s best friend helps veterans recover from PTSD

Sufferers have noted feeling calmer, more confident and less depressed and agitated with the help of the canines.

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family, pet, animal and people concept - close up of happy man with labrador retriever dog on walk
Psychiatric service dogs are an emerging complementary intervention for PTSD. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Service dogs can help war veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research.

The animals are trained to help with nightmares, flashbacks, zoning out and anxiety and panic attacks.

An American study found that man's best friend reduces symptoms by establishing a successful relationship.

Lead author Clare Jensen, a graduate student at Purdue University, Indiana, said: "This study provides new information about how and why service dogs may improve mental health for some veterans with PTSD.

"We are especially grateful to the military veterans who made this possible by sharing their time and experiences with us."

Dogs can offer numerous forms of support to PTSD sufferers and also aid in their recovery.

Sufferers have noted feeling calmer, more confident and less depressed and agitated with the help of the canines.

In the first analysis of its kind, Ms. Jensen and colleagues delved into the use of service dogs by US veterans with PTSD, illuminating factors and mechanisms that underlie the benefits.

It sheds fresh light on previous investigations suggesting pairing a veteran reduces symptoms severity.

In the study, 82 military members or veterans were paired with service dogs, which had all been trained to alleviate PTSD.

They spent more than 80 percent of their time together - assessed via Bluetooth proximity between dog collar and the veteran's smartphone.

Shortly beforehand, and again after a three-month period together, the veterans completed a number of surveys and allowed researchers to make additional observations.

They captured a detailed view of dog behavior, training methods, and the use of specific trained tasks.

Lower dog excitability was linked to less severity of PTSD symptoms and to a closer veteran-dog relationship. Most other dog characteristics evaluated had little effect.

Better mental health was associated with a number of factors, including the perception of the dog’s care as being easy and a closer veteran-dog relationship.

The analysis, published in the journal PLOS One, also found a link between worse depression and more frequently asking service dogs to initiate the social greeting.

Veterans who more frequently asked their dogs to alert them to a human approaching from behind were more likely to have greater anxiety but less severity of PTSD symptoms.

Further research will be needed to expand on the findings, potentially leading to a better understanding of how to identify veterans who could benefit from service dogs and how to best select and train dogs.

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Ms. Jensen said: "Psychiatric service dogs are an emerging complementary intervention for PTSD.

"Initial evidence suggests that partnership with a service dog may be related to less PTSD symptom severity. However, it remains unclear how or why this might
occur."

The dogs are trained to do work or perform tasks directly related to a psychiatric disability.

For example, they can be trained to detect a veteran’s physical signs of anxiety and distress and interrupt them.

Thousands of disabled people rely on an assistance dog to help them with day-to-day activities.

The dogs are also trained to help people with hearing difficulties, epilepsy, diabetes and physical mobility problems. They are often recognizable by a harness or jacket.

Ms. Jensen added: "Overall, veterans spent an average of 82 percent of their time with service dogs and most frequently asked them to perform the trained task for calming their anxiety."

Assistance/Guide dog owners have the same rights as everyone else to use the services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants under the 2010 Equality Act (EA).

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