Service dogs actually help veterans with PTSD, new study says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) -  Purdue University is at work to find the scientific ways service dogs help veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The university recently completed a pilot study looking into the issue. 

Up until this point there has been limited research on the how and why service dogs are believed to help PTSD symptoms. 

"It's not a cure. I think some people come into this thinking that the dog is magic and that PTSD will be gone once they have the dog but our data shows that it's certainly not a cure but that it will substantially reduce symptoms for individuals," said Assistant Professor of Human-Animal Interaction Maggie O’Haire.

The study was led by O’Haire. She said prior to the study there was a lot of anecdotal info and great stories but no science behind it. 

Purdue partnered with K9s For Warriors, which a service-dog provider based out of Florida. 

The study focused on scientific evidence and the effects the dogs have on the veterans and their spouses.

What they found is that those who have a service dog had significantly lower symptoms of PTSD, lower depression, better quality of life, and were able to get out of their house and interact more often.

"Some of these things the dogs will do is wake the person up from a nightmare because we know that nightmares and experiencing that trauma again can be very stressful. So the dog will actually wake up the individual from a nightmare or calm them down once they have woken up," said O’Haire.

The results were a result of standardized surveys taken by the 141 veterans studied. Half of them had service dogs and the other half did not.

"When they're out in public they will lean against the person so the person can feel more centered. They might stand in between the veteran and another human being so the veteran feels safer or watch their back when they're in public so they don't have the fear that someone is going to come up behind them and get them."

She added that when the veterans were doing their treatment as usual, there really were not any changes in their PTSD. It was only after only after they got the dog that the symptoms were reduced.

The study took about two years to complete and is now published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 

Next, Purdue researchers hope to do a larger scale study that will be funded through the National Institute of Health. They will focus on physiological changes by studying cortisol levels, sleep, and activity in both the animals and veterans. The findings could lead to future changes in policy.

"The Veteran's Administration won't fund these dogs because there's no science behind it so I think that some individuals hope that there will be policy change to support these as a valid, medical need for the individuals who need them," she said.

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