PTSD Service Dogs

Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD patients benefit greatly from the companionship of a therapy dog. Having a dog in general help lifts a person’s spirits and bring out feelings of love and acceptance. They can relieve stress through play and also help their owner see the fun in life. There are 2 basic types of dogs that are used as service animals: emotional support dogs and service dogs. Therapy dogs are often considered their own category but could also be considered emotional support dogs.The training involved and duties required of the animal are what sets the two apart.

What is PTSD?

PTSD-service-dogsPTSD is a disorder that occurs after a person or animal has experienced a traumatic event. It is often assosciated with veterans who have faced combat, but there are other types of events that can cause the disorder.

During the event fear for your life and others’ can cause anxiety since you are powerless to control what is happening around you. Some people continually sense this fear even after the event has long passed. It will often times affect the way the person lives their life, in a constant state of terror.

There are many factors that play into the severity of the disorder: how long the event lasted, was someone close to you lost, were you seriously injured, how in control you felt during the event, did you seek/get support after the event was over, how long did the even last, if you were first person in the event or just an onlooker.

Seeking help is the only way to help you get better. There are many forms of therapy available to those who have suffered through a traumatic event, and working with a therapy dog is a very beneficial one. The Oxytocin released as a side effect of owning and caring for a dog is beneficial for a PTSD sufferer. It helps them build trusts with others.

Does the VA provide Therapy Dogs?

Currently the VA does not provide dogs for service members suffering through PTSD. There is research being conducted on how beneficial these dogs are to those recovering from a traumatic event. The VA does provide guide dogs and service dogs to those who meet a certain standards.  The animal is provided on a case by case basis, as well as, the training is provided to the veteran free of charge, for those meeting the guidelines. A Veteran must undergo an evaluation to see if they are eligible to receive a service dog. It is important to note that the VA provides veterinary care and equipment through the VA Prosthetics and Sensory Aids, but does not cover any boarding, grooming, food, or any other expense that may occur with owning a dog.

Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog vs Therapy Dog

Service Dog:

Service dogs are specifically trained to perform certain tasks and assist their owner in mitigating their disabilities. They work in tandem with their owner so that the person can lead a life that is not hampered by disabilities. They can be trained to hlelp detect a surge or fall in blood sugar in a diabetic patient, help those who are hearing impaired, and most commonly associated with being a guide dog, or seeing eye dog. The most common types of breed found in the service dog arena are the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection to the rights of individuals with disabilities while being accompanied by their service animal. Whether this is in restaurants, churches, hotels, airplanes, or even grocery stores. Service dogs are allowed to go into pretty much every public place that their human counterpart can. For a dog to be considered a service dog, it must be trained for a specific task. They are not meant to be solely provide comfort or emotional support.

Emotional Support Dog:

Emotional support dogs are different from service dogs. These dogs are not required to undergo any type of specialty training.  Emotional support animals are typically dogs or cats, and in order for a person to be prescribed one of these types of animals they must be able to verify their need and disability to a medical professional. Their primary purpose it to provide psychological support to their owner. They provide companionship for people who suffer from problems like debilitating depression. The ADA does not grant owners of emotional support dogs access to establishments like service dogs. The Fair Housing Act does allow owners with emotional support animals to live in houses that have a “No Pet” Policy. It is under the FHAA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that a person with any assistance animal be granted a waiver for their animal to reside with them. There is some contreversy that surrounds emotional support dogs as they are not trained to behave in a certain manner they are often just pets. In public they may act out or misbehave, sniffing or barking at others and relieving themselves in areas not intended to be used in such a manner.

Therapy Dog:

Therapy dogs receive some training but it is quite different from that of a service dog. They provide physiological and psychological therapy to people other than their handlers. These dogs have an even temperament and are friendly, with a gentle disposition. They visit places where people might need encouragement to socialize and some interaction outside of the human kind.  Their purpose is to comfort individuals or even groups of people or to help with learning disabilities. These types of dogs are typically found in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and hospices. In schools they are used for many programs and have even been used as tutors! They have been used in disaster response situations, and for help with people suffering from PTSD after a traumatic event. Again their main purpose is to help de-stress or bring calm to a situation. Most of these dogs have some sort of certification, and meet a set of standards. They are usually handled by their owner who is also trained to meet the criteria of a therapy dog team.