Service Dogs Reduce PTSD Symptoms, Study Results From Purdue Show

New analysis highlights factors and mechanisms that underlie the mental health effects for veterans.

Better mental health for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with several factors, including easy care of a service dog and the closeness of the bond between dogs and veterans, according to the results of an analysis from Purdue University.

The findings of the study, conducted by Clare Jensen and colleagues, were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 27, 2022.

“This study provides new information about how and why service dogs may improve mental health for some veterans with PTSD. We are especially grateful to the military veterans who made this possible by sharing their time and experiences with us,” Jensen, a research assistant in the Department of Comparative Pathobiology at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement.

Previous research results showed that there was an association between a veteran being paired with a service dog and lower severity of PTSD, though it was unclear why.

To better understand the link, the investigators studied 82 military members or veterans and their service dogs. The dogs were all trained to alleviate PTSD symptoms.

The veterans completed several different surveys shortly before the pairing and again after 3 months together. Investigators used this to make additional observations for the dog-veteran interactions.

First, they analyzed the results of the surveys and records related to personal characteristics of the service dogs and veterans as well as the closeness of the bonds.

The investigators found that most of the dog characteristics were not associated with better or worse veteran mental health outcomes, except for lower dog excitability. This was linked to a closer veteran-dog relationship and lower severity of PTSD symptoms.

Additionally, the investigators probed potential mechanisms that could help alleviate mental health symptoms. To do this, they analyzed the results of observations and surveys that captured dog behavior, training methods, and the use of specific trained tasks.

Better mental health was associated with several factors, including the close bond between the dogs and veterans and perception of easy care for the dog.

The analysis also showed that there was a link between more frequently asking service dogs to initiate the social greeting and worse depression. Additionally, veterans who more frequently asked the dogs to alert them to individuals approaching them from behind were more likely to have greater anxiety but less severe PTSD symptoms.

further research is needed to expand on the findings, investigators said.

This could lead to a better understanding of how to identify veterans who could benefit from service dogs and how to best select and train the dogs.

Reference

How service dogs reduce PTSD symptoms: factors and mechanisms. News release. Science Daily. July 27, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220727141337.htm

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