I like the idea of combining two topics of great interest to me: dogs and healing from PTSD. When I first learned that PTSD was one of the training programs a dog could complete to help veterans, I was intrigued. What, after all, can a dog do to help someone with PTSD other than offer a few licks of comfort? I’m learning there is much, much more these animals have to offer.
PTSD dogs receive special training to recognize when the owner is becoming increasingly anxious. They reduce stress and increase feelings of security. The dog can be trained to respond to crying, covering your face, hyperventilation, or even heavy breathing. When the animal recognizes you are becoming more anxious, it reorients you to the present by nudging you, licking your face or climbing into your lap. It can be taught the cue you prefer as well as accepting your command that you are ok and want to be left alone.
A dog trained to be a PTSD response animal can learn a “block” command. When in a crowded room, asking the dog to “block,” cues the dog to step in front of you and effectively keep other people from getting too close. Body contact with the handler is maintained to “reorient” the veteran to the present so s/he doesn’t get pulled into unwanted memories.
PTSD dogs can also be taught to turn on the lights in a dark room, and add to the confidence a veteran needs to venture out into public places again. By working with the dog, a veteran with PTSD learns new ways to confront the disorder and cope with it.