Soldier’s Best Friend: Dogs and PTSD

Dogs and PTSD


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Photo: Google Images

K-9 Disaster Relief has been conducting research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the benefits of paring U.S. military veterans with canines.

The unspoken bond between dogs and humans is well documented and is commonly referred to as the Human-Animal-Bond.

It is well known that PTSD is one of the major problems facing returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The soldiers that served in W.W. II and Korea are unfortunately the forgotten victims of this psychological disorder. Diagnosis and treatment has advanced dramatically in the medical and psychological community. Physical wounds from returning soldiers are visual. There is more empathy, understanding and treatment. Not so with PTSD. This wound is not visible. Historically, it was dismissed as a ephemeral condition or psychological impairment. It was once referred to as “shell shock” and “syndrome” and the treatment plan and the prescription was to go back to work and “get over it.”  It had the urgency of treating a headache. Fortunately, in 2013 the American Psychological Association revised the criteria for PTSD.


According to Frank T. Shane, B.C.E.T.S. of K-9 Disaster Relief

PTSD does not have a timeline as to treatment or the length of time to recover. This psychological invisible wound can manifest itself when returning from service. It can also be a lifelong disability that subsides and remains dormant. Insidious, it can resurface after many years, triggered by  flashbacks such as an event, sight, smell or sound. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides standard criteria and common language for the classification of disorders such as PTSD. It is published by the American Psychology Association (APA). The fifth edition includes major advancements, including changes to the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This is significant for many reasons, including the ability for those suffering and under treatment to be paired with a specifically trained service dog. 

In the publication, Survivors, Tracy Stecker, Ph.D, authored “How war vets – – and the rest of us – – heal from trauma.” Article published in Psychology Today

Dogs respond well to authoritative relationships. many [service] personnel return home from their deployments and have difficulty functioning in their relationships. They are used to giving and getting orders. This usually doesn’t work well in the typical American home, and I’ve talked to many servicemen and women who have been told to knock that off once they get home. Well, dogs love it.

In her Survivor article, Dr. Stecker cites that: 1) Dogs are vigilant. 2) Dogs are protective. 3) Dogs respond well to authoritative relationships. 4) Dogs love unconditionally. 5. Dogs help relearn trust. 6. Dogs help to remember feelings of love.


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Photo: Google Images

In an upcoming article, K-9 Disaster Relief will define the classification of service dogs, specific benefits and protection under the ADA. Other forthcoming articles will provide resources and service dog organizations. If you have further questions, personal comments or experiences contact K-9 Disaster Relief.  K-9Connection


The following article was published by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

man hugging his dog

Veterans Affairs

Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.



[THE VA STATES:] Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been done.



K-9 Disaster Relief believes that the current studies do draw strong conclusions. As a teaching and research non-profit organization, evidence based programs are endeavoring to educate and provide the VA with information to validate the psychological and emotional benefits of those suffering with PTSD by paring those soldiers with service canines. At this time, is difficult to confirm as to whether the VA is reviewing that data. It is a fact that VA services and budgets are being cut with respect to service canines. K-9 Disaster Relief, through its international radio program Animal Bond Radio “The Talk of Animals” will attempt to interview the VA. Further blog posts will keep subscribers and followers updated. If you have information, a service canine or opinions, please contact K-9 Disaster Relief:  K-9Connection.

The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs article continues . . .

What are the emotional benefits of having a dog?

Dogs can make great pets. Having a dog as a pet can benefit anyone who likes dogs, including people with PTSD. For example, dogs:

  • Help bring out feelings of love.
  • Are good companions.
  • Take orders well when trained. This can be very comfortable for a Servicemember or Veteran who was used to giving orders in the military.
  • Are fun and can help reduce stress.
  • Are a good reason to get out of the house, spend time outdoors, and meet new people.

Recovering from PTSD

Recovering from PTSD is a process. Evidence-based treatments for PTSD help people do things they have been avoiding because of their PTSD, such as standing close to a stranger or going into a building without scanning it for danger first. Evidence-based treatments can also help people feel better. Dogs can help you deal with some parts of living with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective PTSD treatment. 

Although people with PTSD who have a service dog for a physical disability or emotional support dog may feel comforted by the animal, there is some chance they may continue to believe that they cannot do certain things on their own. For example, if the dog keeps strangers from coming too close, the owner will not have a chance to learn that they can handle this situation without the dog. Becoming dependent on a dog can get in the way of the recovery process for PTSD. Based on what we know from research, evidence-based treatment provides the best chance of recovery from PTSD.

Service dogs and emotional support dogs

Service dogs

A service dog is a dog trained to do specific tasks for a person that he or she cannot do because of a disability. Service dogs can pick things up, guide a person with vision problems, or help someone who falls or loses balance easily. For example, a service dog can help a blind person walk down the street or get dangerous things out of the way when someone is having a seizure.

Protecting someone, giving emotional support, or being a companion do not qualify a dog to be a service animal. To be a service dog, a dog must go through training. Usually the dog is trained to:

  • Do things that are different from natural dog behavior
  • Do things that the handler (dog owner) cannot do because of a disability
  • Learn to work with the new handler in ways that help manage the owner’s disability

Because the handler depends on the service dog’s help, service dogs are allowed to go to most public places the handler goes. This is the case even if it is somewhere pet dogs usually cannot go, like restaurants or on airplanes. But there are a few exceptions. For example, service dogs can be asked to leave if they are not behaving well.

Emotional support dogs

An emotional support animal is a pet that helps an owner with a mental health condition. Emotional support dogs help owners feel better by giving friendship and companionship. These dogs are also called comfort dogs or support dogs.

An emotional support dog does not need special training. Generally, a regular pet can be an emotional support dog if a mental health provider writes a letter saying that the owner has a mental health condition or disability and needs the dog’s help for his or her health or treatment.

In most states, emotional support dogs do not have special permission to go to all public places like service dogs do. But, emotional support dogs are sometimes allowed special consideration. For example, the owner may be able to get permission to have an emotional support pet in a house or apartment that does not normally allow dogs. Or, the owner may be able to get permission to fly on a plane together with the dog.

To get special permissions, the dog owner needs to show a provider’s letter to the landlord or airline. Sometimes, the landlord or airline will also want to see information about the provider, such as a copy of their professional license.

What do I need to know about dogs and PTSD?

Pets, service animals, and emotional support dogs need owners who can provide for them. Dogs require constant attention and care. It is a good idea to discuss getting a dog with your doctor or family before making the decision. If you have PTSD and are worried that it may be hard for you to provide a safe, caring home for a dog, it may be good to wait until after you get treatment for your PTSD and feel better.

You may already have a dog that helps you feel better or do things you would not otherwise do. But learning more about evidence-based PTSD treatments is important. Unlike people who work with service dogs because they have permanent disabilities (like blindness or seizure disorders), people with PTSD can get better with treatment.

If you are looking for a service dog or emotional support dog, we recommend you carefully research any organizations you contact. You should only get a dog if you are confident it is well trained. The organization should be able to answer any questions you have.

VA and service dogs

Research is underway to better understand if dogs can provide a disability service for persons with PTSD. VA has started a research study to determine if there are things a dog can do for a Veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD. The study is expected to take several years to complete. The National Center for PTSD is not involved in this study, but we will provide results when they become available.

Currently, VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments. If research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD, VA will provide veterinary care for such dogs. Read more information on VA and service dogs.


About the K-9 Disaster Relief Organization:
 A non-profit humanitarian organization to help traumatized victims and children of disasters and critical incidents through Canine Disaster Relief Services. In addition to providing courses, community outreach, workshops and speaking appearances, the organization is collaborating with the National September 11 Memorial Museum through its innovative programs designed for children, parents and caregivers.



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About Frank T. Shane, B.C.E.T.S:  He is a pioneer in the field of the utilization of handlers trained in Canine Disaster Relief Services He is the founder and Executive Director of K-9 Disaster Relief, a non-profit humanitarian organization. He is a board certified trauma counselor and Diplomat and Fellow of the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Frank Shane teaches courses in Canine Disaster Relief Services, the Human-Animal-Bond and the Psychology and Behavior of Dogs.