Two Unique Ways Service Dogs Relieve PTSD Symptoms

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Service dogs are amazing animals, and here at Honest Pets, we’re proud to shine a spotlight on these beloved friends. In previous posts, we’ve discussed how debilitating PTSD can be for many of our veterans and others who seek therapy. We’ve also looked at the four types of service dogs, ranging from emotional support to psychiatric support dogs. You might be surprised at the range of services these dogs perform.

Unique Physical Tasks Service Dogs Can Perform to Relieve PTSD

The remainder of this post comes from our friends at Atlas Assistance Dogs.

Post-traumatic stress disorder commonly referred to as PTSD can be a challenging and debilitating struggle. Thanks to service dogs, however, life can be better for those trying to manage PTSD symptoms. Here is important information for understanding PTSD and the vital role service dogs can perform, brought to you by Atlas Assistance Dogs.

Specialized Tasks

Many people are confused about the roles emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs play. Emotional support dogs are actually companion animals without specialized training. Unlike emotional support dogs, psychiatric service dogs are trained specifically for tasks that mitigate PTSD symptoms (or other mental health symptoms) such as nightmares, dissociations, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance.

Some of these tasks include waking their person up from night terrors and providing deep pressure therapy or a variety of other grounding tasks. Similarly, dogs can be trained to mitigate and interrupt panic attacks and self-harm behaviors.

Deep Pressure Therapy Video

In this video, you can see the dog jumping on the bed and laying fully on the person to provide pressure on her entire body. This is a common task that helps people decrease their heightened state of anxiety or panic.

One common symptom of PTSD is hyper-vigilance, where the person may be hyper-aware and alert of their surroundings and on the lookout for danger. Service dogs can be trained to alert their handler by pawing or nudging them when someone is approaching them from behind; a cue we call pay attention. This helps the person avoid a startle or fear response as they have time to process the situation.

In social situations or public spaces where the person may need space, the dog can provide a block cue and will act as a physical barrier between their handler and other people by either standing behind or in front of the person.

Block Training Video

Here, you can see one of our Atlas Team Facilitators training their dog to perform a block task. In this video, you will hear them call the cue “working”.

Service Dogs Don’t Replace Treatment

While service dogs can perform phenomenal tasks for people with PTSD and other psychiatric disorders, it is important to remember that they are not substitutes for other treatments such as therapy or medication. We always recommend that a service dog compliments someone’s ongoing treatment, not replace it.

Service Dog Etiquette

Service dogs are protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) due to the important work they do for their handlers. Because of that protection, service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their handlers go (with a few exceptions), even when in training. (Each US state has its own laws in regards to in-training service dogs and access, not all allow service dogs in training to have the same public access rights as fully-trained service dogs).
Service dogs need to be able to focus on their handlers, as well as take in and evaluate their surroundings. It’s important to understand that service dogs are still dogs. Trying to pet, talk with or otherwise interact with a service dog while they are working can be distracting and hinder the dog from doing their job. If you feel it is truly important to approach the dog and their handler, one recommendation is to speak directly to the handler while not interacting with the dog and ask for permission, while respecting their right to decline greetings. Please keep your own dog away from working dogs, and don’t offer snacks to a service dog on duty.

Best Friend, Healing, and Hope

Most people recognize the benefits of being loved by a dog, but service dogs can provide a special kind of companionship to those coping with PTSD. These canines perform vital tasks. From alleviating symptoms to curtailing trouble before it gets out of hand. Thanks to their service dogs’ hard work, those coping with PTSD can enjoy an improved quality of life and thrive with their dog by their side.

About Atlas Assistance Dogs

Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one.
We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog and offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact info@atlasdog.org

Mental Health Resources

If you or someone you know is seeking support for their PTSD or with their mental health, here are some additional resources that may be helpful:

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

https://growingveterans.org/
https://www.nami.org/Home

Author: Jessica Brody
Jessica is a dog lover and is passionate about sharing pet photos and stories with others. She created Our Best Friends to be a venue for pet lovers to share their pet pics, stories, and adventures. Jessica believes that pets are family and enjoys her bonding moments with her furry pals.

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