It’s no surprise that dogs can soothe us when we feel troubled. But research shows bonding with dogs has positive benefits even on a biological level.
A pet can make anyone happy, but pet ownership can be especially helpful for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many veterans returning home from overseas have experienced horrible situations that later cause PTSD.
Many different types of therapy can help treat the flashbacks, anxiety, depression, numbness, nightmares and other symptoms that characterize PTSD. While traditional therapy can be extremely beneficial, some veterans have difficulty accessing it in the VA system, or have difficulty admitting the need for therapy.
Veterans With PTSD Can Benefit from Owning a Dog
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, can appear right away or take years to surface.
Returning soldiers often experience it because they faced danger to their lives or the lives of their fellow soldiers, and they had no control over the situation. They witnessed injuries or death, or they themselves also suffered physical harm.
The shell shock and combat stress symptoms common among those suffering from PTSD are varied; however, many experience suicidal thoughts, recurring memories and nightmares, sleeplessness, a loss of interest in life or feeling numb, anger, irritation, and fear. Thus, PTSD can impact their everyday life.
It’s important to seek out professional help for PTSD, but veterans may also want to consider getting a pet. Psychology researchers have started to recognize the therapeutic benefits of owning a dog. No matter if it’s a Pomeranian or a Pit Bull, adopting a dog can be surprisingly helpful for veterans with PTSD. Here are six ways dogs can help turn your life around:
Exercise and Health
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Walking, or running, with your dog may not feel like a lot of work but it definitely helps with keeping active. It’s easy to become mired in symptoms and not want to move.
Dogs help you get out of the house, get active and meet new people. Dogs need a lot of exercise, which is the perfect reason for owners to get out of the house. The act of simply leaving the house can boost your mood, but getting exercise in the process is also a great way to fight depression.
There has been a demonstrated link between having a dog as a pet and the release of oxytocin in the brain. When you pet your dog, play with them, or even just talk to them as you go about your daily life, this essential neurochemical is released in your brain, causing feelings of peace, joy, happiness, and contentment.
Having more oxytocin released on a regular basis can improve your wellness, self-perception, and overall moods, which has a strong impact on quality of life. The simple act of giving your dog a treat and seeing their genuine excitement and happiness for it, can boost your daily happiness.
Dog ownership helps those living with PTSD rebuild trust. Dogs are loyal and always there for you. Because the ability to trust is often damaged by PTSD, knowing you can depend on your dog can help you learn to trust people again, too.
Transition to Civilian Life
Coming from a military background often means years of routine. Losing it suddenly can be hurtful for anyone, but especially those who have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dogs can be trained and take orders well, which is especially helpful for veterans who are used to giving orders. Authoritativeness often doesn’t have a place in civilian life, which can be a hard thing for veterans to adjust to. Having a dog to train can give veterans an opportunity to use their command skills in a constructive way.
The relationship with a service dog can often overcome those hurdles and help form the basis of a healthy routine.
Give More Love
Dogs bring out feelings of affection, and they love unconditionally. A lot of people with PTSD are ashamed of their condition or the way it affects their interactions with other people. Having a bad day can push loved ones away, but a dog will always be there.
Dogs make you feel safe and protected. Nightmares, traumatic flashbacks, anxiety and depression from PTSD can make you feel vulnerable. Dogs are always by your side, reminding you that you’re not alone. Larger dogs such as German Shepherds can also protect you. Even if you’re never in a situation where that’s necessary, it’s a comforting feeling.
The Dogs Benefit, Too
As a wonderful bonus, it’s often a new lease on life for the dogs, as well. Many service dogs trained to help those suffering from PTSD have been on a difficult journey of their own and are rescues who were mistreated or abandoned, living in shelters. To help both owner and K9 live their new lives to the fullest, grab some safe toys and chews for playtime and bonding.
Organizations train these dogs to alert veterans to potential PTSD triggers and to help them ease their anxieties. It’s a win-win situation when a dog is rescued and gains a secure home and purpose, and the veteran gets a companion to help diminish the emotionally destructive feeling of isolation.