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They say that dogs are man's best friend. In so many ways, this is true. Dogs are sociable, friendly, and they can make you feel loved just by being around. Not to mention, they do all sorts of funny things that have you telling people stories, to the point where some people wonder why you can't stop talking about your dog! It comes as no surprise, then, that dogs are one of the most popular tools used for emotional support. Emotional support animals, such as a PTSD service dog, have become more and more commonplace in today's world.
People can have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as a result of any traumatic event. The most common cause of this disorder involves experiences from serving in the military. Many people who have served in the military have witnessed the deaths of beloved friends, been forced in self-defense to take actions that would inevitably haunt them or any of countless other traumatic events that can happen in such an extreme situation. A PTSD service dog can be a very useful resource for these individuals after their time in the service. As one makes the return to normal life, a dog can be instrumental in the healing process.
10 Facts You Should Know Before Getting A PTSD Service Dog
There are many things that you should keep in mind before bringing a PTSD service dog into your home. The following are 10 of the most notable.
1. Necessary Qualifications For A PTSD Service Dog
Though PTSD varies from person to person, there are some common aspects. These include hypervigilance, sleep disruptions, and flashbacks to the traumatic event. Someone who has been in the service is likely to have flashbacks that impair functioning. As such, these individuals need strong emotional support in order to regain their ability to function normally. For this reason, the training that PTSD service dogs undergo is fairly rigorous and intense. Some training organizations will send dogs to prison to complete their training. The reasoning is that this places them in unpredictable environments that will prepare them well.
There are many dogs whose temperaments make them unsuitable for this kind of work. For example, some dogs tend to be unpredictable in their actions. Others do not have the attention span required to pay attention to the handler's emotional state. Trainers will typically screen these dogs out of the process. Training for a PTSD service dog involves conditioning them to be in tune with their owners' emotions. That enables them to perform related complex tasks. Among these tasks is reminding them to take medication or warning them against entering potentially triggering situations.
2. A PTSD Service Dog Can Improve The Owner's Physiological Health
Numerous studies show that dogs are good for mental health overall. In the case of someone with PTSD, this is particularly helpful. Bonding with a dog has been shown to increase the level of oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is associated with empathy and affection. It improves the person's ability to trust others, overcome paranoid feelings, interpret facial expressions more accurately, and other skills that are very valuable in social settings. Dopamine is involved in the regulation of emotional responses. Additionally, it helps the individual both recognize and be able to move towards rewards. Being around dogs also reduces the levels of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone.
Given that these effects are present with any dog, the effect is even greater with a PTSD service dog. The reasoning here is that this dog is specifically trained to deal with mental health.
3. A PTSD Service Dog Can Help Prevent Environmental Triggers
There are two main types of triggers for people with PTSD. One of these would be trauma-specific triggers, which generally contain some aspect of the trauma. An example would be seeing a propeller, such as a ceiling fan, and being reminded of helicopters at war. A PTSD service dog would not be able to prevent these sorts of triggers from occurring.
However, a PTSD service dog can be helpful in preventing environmental triggers. The dog can turn itself into a buffer between the owner and other people, keeping them at a distance when necessary. As such, the dog's handler can feel more comfortable about going out in public. Additionally, the handler can learn how to pick up on when the dog is stressed out by observing behaviors such as excessive panting and licking. Once the bond between dog and owner forms, the dog can also sense the owner's stress levels. Then, the dog can alert the owner to the increased stress. The owner can respond to the signals from the dog and take the appropriate action.
4. These Service Dogs Can Also Help Ameliorate
Trigger Effects Once They've Already Happened
Although a PTSD service dog cannot do anything to prevent trauma-specific triggers, they can engage in secondary interventions. The dog can simply be a calming presence for the owner during the trigger. The handler can learn to focus on the dog instead of the trigger. That will keep him or her in the moment rather than in the trauma. The dog can help provide comfort and emotional stability in the moment. Additionally, a PTSD service dog can physically place himself or herself in between the handler and the trigger.
5. These Dogs Can Make Their Owners More Autonomous
PTSD service dogs help their owners function in a variety of ways. These animals not only help their owners deal with triggers, but they also assist with all sorts of other daily tasks. They tend to improve medication compliance and lower levels of anxiety and depression. That makes it so that people are more likely to be able to get through their days with positive results. With a PTSD service dog, a person is generally more capable of living on his or her own. He or she is less likely to need other human beings, such as live-in nurses, in order to function.
6. They Can Help Their Owners Experience Less Anxiety And Stress
A PTSD service dog can be helpful not only in the moment but over time. When an owner has used one of these dogs for a prolonged period of time, his or her overall stress level can go down significantly. Eventually, the handler can be less sensitive to both trauma-specific and environmental triggers. Common improvements include fewer flashbacks, less hypersensitivity, decreased insomnia, and better concentration.
Depression and anxiety come down as well. The owner's temptation to stay in bed all day -- or worse, engage in self-harming behaviors -- is contradicted by the need to take care of the dog. The handler will also be less likely to lose his or her temper with the dog, due to the awareness that any emotional outbursts will affect the dog as well. Dissociation, in which the person mentally checks out for some time, is also common in PTSD patients. A PTSD service dog can be instrumental here as well, requesting attention during these times and bringing the owner back to reality.
7. They Can Help Their Owners Sleep Better
PTSD service dogs have been linked with better sleep in owners. In some cases, owners will sleep two to three times as much, getting a full five to six hours a night instead of two to three, for example. Many factors could contribute to this phenomenon, one being that PTSD service dogs increase medication compliance on average. They remind their owners to take their medication, which in itself helps the owners experience less stress and anxiety in many cases. Also, the relationship that the PTSD service dog has with the owner lowers stress and anxiety, which has been shown to be conducive to better sleep.
8. They Can Help Their Owners Develop Stronger Coping Skills
A PTSD service dog can also be very helpful in the development of coping skills. Owners can observe the behavior and cues coming from the dog and be more grounded in the moment as a result. The dog's presence and commitment to the owner can help take the owner out of his or her head. With PTSD service dogs, patients eventually become less burdened by anxiety and more self-sufficient in their lives. As such, they are more easily able to implement other aspects of their treatment and even accept help from other people in some cases.
9. There Are Different Ways To Go About Getting A PTSD Service Dog
Someone who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and feels that he or she would benefit from a relationship with a PTSD service dog can go about this in a variety of ways. Some individuals would like to have their own dogs certified as PTSD service dogs, and this could be possible in some cases. However, the dog would need to go undergo extensive training to be effective. Some dogs may not be able to serve this purpose, as many dogs do not have the required temperament for the job. If you are interested in having your own dog certified, you can reach out to your local chapter of the National Humane Society or ASPCA. Alliance of Therapy Dogs is another Resource for those who want to get their potential therapy dogs certified.
There are many organizations that can help you find a PTSD service dog if you do not already have one that can be certified. Patriot PAWS is one example; this organization provides service dogs to veterans. Pawsitivity is another potential resource; this nonprofit organization rescues dogs and provides them with training for various purposes. There are many resources that can help veterans find the right PTSD service dog.
You should keep in mind that the resources available, as well as relevant procedures and laws, will vary depending on your location. You should check the specifications for your location in order to see how you can go about getting the service dog that is right for you.
10. PTSD Service Dogs Can Help Not Only With Specific Symptoms But With The Holistic Healing Process
With a PTSD service dog, a veteran can essentially get his or her life back more quickly and effectively. The dog not only helps manage triggers and lowers levels of anxiety and depression, but he or she can help the owner with socialization and reintegration into his or her former life. The simple need to take the dog for walks can lead to more socialization with other people. Additionally, the positive effects that the dog has on anxiety and depression levels can help foster a healthy social life. A stronger social life can also lead to a better support network for the person. The relationship with the dog can also bolster happiness, thereby increasing confidence that can extend into social interactions with other people.
In addition to all of these mental and emotional benefits, a PTSD service dog can be helpful when it comes to physical health as well. Veterans who have mobility issues can benefit from dogs who are trained in stabilization and bracing. Additionally, because mental and physical health are irreversibly connected, help with the owner's emotional state in itself will very likely result in better physical health.
A PTSD service dog will have the greatest effect when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy. If the individual gets proper training in cognitive-behavioral techniques, along with the positive interactions with the PTSD service dog, he or she can have a great chance at healing from trauma. Help with all parts of the holistic healing process can lead to a functional and well-adjusted life.
Consider Bringing A PTSD Service Dog Into Your Life!
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As you can see, a PTSD service dog can be very helpful to anyone who is suffering from that type of trauma. Anyone who has PTSD from having been in the service and seeing all the horrific sights that that can entail could benefit both physically and mentally from the assistance of one of these trained service dogs. If you have not already looked into it, you should consider contacting organizations in your area to see what a therapy dog could potentially do to help improve your situation.