PTSD in full means Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a disorder that develops in people who have undergone scary, shocking or life-threatening events in the past. The events may be physical/sexual assault, combat/military exposure, car accident or loss of a loved one. After experiencing a traumatic situation, it is not strange to feel afraid. Fear is a feeling that triggers immediate changes in the human body to help defend the body from possible danger. Such responses are a typical reaction meant to protect such people from harm. Despite a lot of individuals recovering from initial symptoms with time, others continue to experience these problems. Those who continue to show these problems may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Such people include war veterans who have undergone traumatic experiences in battlefields. Veterans may have feelings of fear or fright even when not in danger.
How Dogs Can Help Veterans Overcome PTSD
There are thousands of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq diagnosed with PTSD. Dogs draw out even the most secluded temperament of the veterans. They shatter the defensive wall that such veterans build around themselves to feel safe. Besides, dogs are more available when needed. Each service dog is individually trained to meet their owner’s needs based on their medical state. They help overcome emotional numbness and trauma. Those who have trouble sleeping have reported having a peaceful sleep knowing that there was a dog alert and watching over them.
Service dogs can:
• Calm or relieve the anxiety of the veterans.
• Reduce episodes of depression.
• Offer companionship to avoid loneliness or idleness.
• Help minimize blood pressure.
• Aid to adjust serotonin levels.
• Prevent people from rushing up or crowding around patients.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms can start to show as early as three months after the traumatic experience, and may delay in some instances and start to show after a year. To be considered as PTSD, the symptoms must last for over a month and be extreme enough to affect work or relationships. Some people recover in few months while the condition becomes chronic in some people.
1. At least one avoidance symptom – include avoiding events, places or people that remind them of the traumatic experiences.
2. At least two cognition and mood symptoms – loss of interest in taking part in entertaining activities like watching movies, negative thoughts about oneself or the surroundings, distorted feelings like guilt and shame, and having problems recalling critical features of the traumatic events.
3. At least one re-experiencing/relieving symptom – include bad dreams/nightmares, flashbacks, and frightening thoughts.
4. At least two arousals and reactivity symptom – include lack of sleep, being shocked easily, having tense moments and having angry outbursts.
Why dogs heal PTSD
Dogs have for a long time known to be man’s best friend. Dogs are loyal, affectionate and non-judgmental. Like Henry Wheeler once said, “a dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” They help people diagnosed with PTSD to communicate more, avoid aggression and instead be assertive. Research also shows that bonding with dogs results in higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone advances trust overpowers paranoia and other negative symptoms associated with this disorder.
The dogs provide a sense of security, physical exercises, and reassuring effects. These bring about a positive impact on the lives of people that have PTSD. They get training in areas such as: giving an environmental assessment in cases like hallucinations, signaling like interrupting harmful behavior and reminding the affected people to take medication.
Best dog breeds for PTSD
Any breed can technically be a service dog though some breeds do a better job as service dogs than others. There’s nothing like the perfect breed for everyone. Factors that affect the suitability of a particular breed are individual needs, personalities, where the handlers live, activity levels, dog coat type and home life considerations. Do a thorough research on each breed in depth, noting the pros and cons, health concerns and lifespans from reliable sources.
Below are 6 of the best breeds for PTSD:
1. Labrador Retriever – smart and trainable.
2. Golden Retriever – easy to train and a natural when serving their masters.
3. Greyhound – quiet and affectionate.
4. German Shepherd – intelligent with protective instincts.
5. Rottweiler – calm and gentle in disposition.
6. Poodle – people-pleasing temperament and relatively active.
How to get a service dog for PTSD veterans
PTSD dogs are individually trained to assist in a medical emergency, giving treatment-related help, aiding in managing emotional burden and doing security enhancement tasks. Veterans that come home after such traumatic experiences have easy access to service dogs. Service dogs undergo training to perform tasks that veterans can’t do due to disability. They also offer emotional support. They get benefits such as subsidized veterinary expenses, lower costs of getting and training the dogs, and reduced costs of equipment the dogs need to perform their tasks. United States Department of Veterans Affairs covers these expenses.
The concept is as simple as ABC:
1. A veteran is given a dog to build a bond with for a few months.
2. Over that time, they are supposed to teach the dogs new commands related to the disorder.
3. The dogs undergo more advanced training before becoming certified.
4. After training, the next step is pairing with disabled or veterans having PTSD.
You can get a service dog for PTSD veterans from:
• Local service dog organizations like Canine Companions for Independence, America’s VetDogs and K9s for Warriors.
• Veteran advocacy organizations like Patriot Paws Service Dogs and Service Dog Project, Inc.
• Trusted breeders.k9sforwarriors.org soldiersbestfriend.org pawsandstripes.org operationwearehere.com pawsforveterans.com
PTSD is common these days, and according to the National Center for PTSD, 7-8% of people at a certain point in their lives experience PTSD. If you know a veteran that has PTSD symptoms, advise them to seek medical attention and therapy, using service dogs is an excellent idea.