Most of us are familiar with service animals, specifically those trained for helping a person with a physical disability. But what about dogs trained to help support their owners emotionally? Get all the details about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder service dogs, below.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone who has been through a traumatic event including physical conflict such as war, rape or burglary or emotional conflict such as coming home from war, dealing with the death of a loved one or witnessing a car accident, said Deb Davis, the national marketing manager for Paws With A Cause.
Benefits of PTSD Service Dogs
A PTSD service dog is one that’s been trained specifically for someone with the disorder. These dogs are known as emotional support dogs, and can be trained to help anyone, including veterans and civilians, by walking in front of or behind the person in public. This simple act, Davis said, can provide a person with the sense of security they need to be comfortable in a situation.
“One of the fears of people with PTSD is the unknown — What’s around the next corner? What's in the dark? — and having the dog with them provides them a sense of comfort, because they can read the dog in order to read a situation,” Davis said.
PTSD dogs can also be trained to recognize when a person with the disorder is having difficulty handling a certain situation. Places with loud, sudden noises, blinking lights or crowds can trigger emotional reactions in PTSD sufferers, Davis said. Having a PTSD service dog on hand will prevent the person from entering a trigger situation or allow them to focus their minds on something else.
Additionally, some agencies will train PTSD service dogs to “block” or “follow” a person. Some PTSD suffers, especially veterans who have been in combat, are uncomfortable in lines with people standing closely in front of or behind them. A dog trained to block or follow will stand in front of or behind their owners, creating more physical space between them and the people around them, Davis said. This is also helpful to veterans with hearing-related injuries that are fearful of what’s behind them.
It’s common for people with PTSD to find themselves feeling distant from loved ones and their environment. Having a dog by their side can help boost their morale and bring them back into their relationships and society, Davis said. When trained with positive reinforcement and used properly, these dogs can easily work for up to 12 years without any adverse physical or emotional side effects, she said.
Paws With A Cause does not train PTSD dogs, but they can be trained by accredited assistance dog agencies or a private individuals, Davis said. It’s important to do your research, she said, and ideally work with an accredited agency to help pair a potential client with the assistance dog they need.
“One of our greatest concerns is that many people, especially veterans, are tricked into paying thousands of dollars for dogs trained by agencies that claim they can train a PTSD dog in six weeks,” she said. “We understand that some smaller agencies cannot afford to fully cover the cost of the dogs they place, but if an agency is requiring a client to pay fees, they should never be paid up front.”
How Long Does it Take to Train (and Match) PTSD Service Dogs?
At an agency, dogs are typically raised in a volunteer home for the first year of their lives and are taught basic obedience and socialization, Davis said. From there, they’ll go to an agency for two to six months to learn more advanced tasks that include retrieving dropped objects, blocking, following and “scouting” or scanning a room or doorway before passing through. Then, they’ll be placed with a client for an additional one to six months of training, Davis said.
The process for acquiring a PTSD service dog can be extensive. At Paws With A Cause, there is a detailed application process, medical exam and in-depth needs assessment interview that is done with a prospective client to make sure the agency learns their needs. Then, they’ll work with a field representative in the clients area to search for the perfect dog to match their needs, personality and characteristics. Once a match is made, a field representative will work with the client and dog in their home and working environment to make sure they’re incorporated into all aspects of a person’s life, Davis said.
Photo courtesy of Paws With A Cause