can canines help heal people with PTSD?

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Sep 28 2015
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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 60% of men and 50% of women living in the U.S. will experience at least one major trauma during their lifetime. These traumas include exposure to combat, disaster, abuse, assault and witnessing death and violence. Over the last forty years, we’ve learned that physical and psychological trauma can lead to a serious condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.

The VA estimates about 7% to 8% of the U.S. population will develop PTSD at some time during their life. 30% of Vietnam War veterans were likely to have PTSD while 12% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) and 11% to 20% of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom were diagnosed with PTSD. As more research has been done on PTSD, it’s clear that treatment is available and beneficial. As an animal advocate, it’s exciting to learn many experts believe dogs may have a critical role in helping PTSD patients recover.

Dog lovers know firsthand how their dogs can brighten even the darkest days. It’s hard to remain dim and dour when you’ve got a shaggy guardian angel nestled in your lap. Researchers and clinicians have also recognized (and probably felt) these emotional connections and have begun evaluating the role dogs can play in the treatment of PTSD.

While there’s currently not enough scientific evidence to know if or how dogs help manage PTSD and its symptoms, plenty of people are already incorporating canines into treatment. Emotional support dogs, comfort dogs and support dogs are some of the titles given to pooches helping an owner with a mental health condition or disability. Because recovering from PTSD is a process, having a dog around can provide emotional stability, routine and responsibility and an emotional safe haven for some sufferers. Patients report they feel better after walking and playing with their dog, are more comfortable talking about difficult topics with therapists when their canine friend is with them and enjoy the daily duties of caring for a pet.

One of the hundreds of organizations helping war veterans recover by using service dogs is Freedom Service Dogs ( They rescue dogs from shelters, train them to provide a variety of services and support and offer these miraculous mutts free of charge to qualified applicants. Over the past few years, they’ve ramped up their PTSD initiatives and have enjoyed countless success stories and loves saved. I encourage you to discover what programs exist in your community and give them your support.

Even though we live in stressful times, we have dogs to heal us. PTSD affects millions of Americans; canines may be an essential part of healing our nation. I’m convinced dogs are helpful for PTSD victims; I’ve seen countless testimonials that have convinced me beyond doubt. Get involved, volunteer and donate what you can to help restore damaged souls back to life with the help of a furry friend.