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Veterans train service dogs to help PTSD

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
University of Missouri researchers team dogs up with veterans for PTSD

(EmaxHealth) The Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri haa teamed up for a study to help veterans with PTSD. Veterans are paired with dogs for obedience training and then move on for specialized training to become service dogs for service members suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

The idea it to pair veterans with dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.

Service members are given the opportunity to help animals heal. The meaningfulness of the activity could help veterans suffering from PTSD feel better.

The study, titled “Mutual Enrichment – Walking and Training Service Dogs”, is being led by Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, RN, FAA.

Veterans work with dogs in 3 phases – the first involves working alongside a trainer in groups, twice a week for one hour. The program is 24 weeks. Veterans are reimbursed $50 for their participation in the first phase of the program.

In the second phase, veterans will make phone calls to support new owners of dogs adopted from shelters.

Phase 3 of the study hooks veterans up with shelter dogs that they’ll train to be service dogs for other vets dealing with PTSD.

The program is a win-win situation for veterans and canines. According to the program outline, “Veterans gain structure, opportunities for relaxation, exercise, and a greater sense of well-being” and “Shelter dogs learn skills crucial to their success outside of the shelter.”

Find out what a shelter dog might feel from being 'dumped' by their owners and you will even better understand why the program would be so good for dogs too.

Johnson says the purpose of the study is to “see how we can get shelter dog walking and training for our services members to help them manage any PTSD symptoms they may have in varying degrees.”

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PTSD can lead to medical illnesses that you can read more about, making it important to find ways to help our Veterans.

She says by doing a healthy, healing activity, the program could help service members readjust.

The study has already begun. The researchers will continue to study the impact of linking veterans with shelter dogs.

Per an e-mail interview with EmaxHealth, Dr. Johnson, the results of the program have been positive so far.

Johnson said, “…we have veterans universally reporting that doing the dog training is 'relaxing' and a good 'stress reliever'. The veterans in the project have become support sources for each other, offering to help each other out if needed.”

Numeric data should be available in January, 2012.

Johnson says another positive outcome of the study is that they are seeing dogs adopted out of the program before the 5 week obedience training is even completed.

There are currently two service dogs in training. The dogs have completed their basic obedience training and are now learning specialized skills to help a veteran with PTSD.

If you are interested in the program, you can contact the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, College of Veterinary Medicine, Clydesdale Hall, Annex Two, 900 East Campus Drive, Columbia, MO 65211, Phone 573-882-2266, Fax: 573-884-5455, E-mail: [email protected], Web site: rechai.missouri.ed

The “Mutual Enrichment – Walking and Training Service Dogs” study will be enrolling in phase 1 again, after the current 3 phases are completed. The research center anticipates 3 or enrollments. All 3 phases take place over a period of 6 months and a representative says enrollees are needed.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



Really moving study. Hope both veterans and dogs succeed in their mission.
Too bad the researcher is not tuned-in to the effectiveness of owner-training. The most effective service dogs for PTSD are trained by the very persons who will use the dogs. This makes much more sense in a psychiatric context as opposed to a physical disability context. A lot of these canine researchers (including this one) are closely-aligned with the assistance dog industry that opposes owner-training, in part, because the industry can't make any money when persons with disabilities are self-sufficient in this way. Yet it is incredibly empowering for folks with PTSD to train their own service dog with appropriate professional supervision. They are more competant as handlers compared to those who get their dogs off the industry assembly line. For sure there is an aggressive effort on the part of industry sympathizers right now to demonstrate that PTSD can be treated without use of a full time service dog (i.e., Paws for Purple Hearts, Warrior Canine Connection, etc.). This obviously perverted effort is rooted in stigma and fueled by prejudice. I believe that researchers, such as the one quoted in this study, do not appreciate or respect the abilities of persons living with mental illnesses to train their own service dog to a high standard. The industry wants the public to believe that only industry service dogs are appropriately trained. This is completely false propaganda. Many service dogs from industry-aligned training organizations are, in fact, poorly trained. Guide Dogs have an especially bad reputation for poor public behavior. So don't believe the industry's hype. Call it for what it is---stigma! We need a research study that respects the demonstrated ingenuity of the mental health consumer community. Do you realize that it was mental health consumers who developed this intervention in the first place? The industry wants to claim the idea of service dogs for PTSD as their own but the public (written) record tells a very different story if you take the time to research the matter. The researcher in this article has no track record of supporting this intervention at the grass roots level and she has longstanding industry affiliations. When it was suggested that she design her study to incorporate the owner-training format, she dismissed the suggestion entirely. If that isn't a huge red flag for supporting the industry's stigmatizing agenda then nothing else is. It is unfortunate that researchers like these are playing such deceptive and political games with their research. I guess the old adage "wolves in sheepskin clothing" applies.
How interesting. Thanks for sharing.
I think your missing the point. I am currently in the process of obtaining a facility dog for our TBI clinic, and often point patient's in the direction of agencies that insist on owner training. But - many, many PTSD soldiers are not in a position to take on a service dog. The point of this research is that simply participating in the training is therapeutic. Similar to equine therapy, which has been hugely successful, but we don't expect most vets to run out and buy a horse. If working with animals at the training level is a successful therapeutic modality, than programs can be set up very inexpensively, as low as those appointed to run them are actually trained appropriately. Some of these programs my eventually turn toward owner-training, but there is still benefit to those participating - including the knowledge that they can still be of service to their fellow service members. Knowing that you have something to offer to very powerful to those who have been beat up by life. This has nothing to do with an industry bias or stigmatizing agenda - it is important research that furthers the cause of animal therapies at many levels.
Thank you both!
We are currently running a similar program with Veterans at our facility. We teamed up with a non-profit that helps Veterans and children with disabilities. Our pilot program is coming to an end in a couple of weeks. The results have been (at least on the surface) positive. We would love to see a more in depth outline of how you run your program to compare with ours.