As I approach the starting date to begin classes so I can train service animals, I will share with you what I am learning about these wonderful dogs. There are quite a few types of service dogs available, including dogs that assist with balance, leader dogs for the blind, dogs trained to help with mobility, to pick things up that you’ve dropped, to alert you if you are about to have a seizure, or if your blood pressure is spiking, or dogs that assist people with a PTSD diagnosis. That’s the one I’m most interested in learning to train.
The current official position of the VA is that dogs trained for PTSD have not been shown to provide any more benefit to someone with PTSD than a normal dog would. I agree that an untrained dog can also enrich a veteran’s life, but PTSD dogs receive special training that, I believe, goes a step further than that.
For one thing, the dog is trained to respond to mood. It may respond to sadness, signs of depression, crying, or other specific cues. In this scenario, the dog would prompt the owner to pay attention to it, reorienting the individual to the present and showing positive acceptance. That can be a strong prompter to remain in the present rather than falling into another flashback.
PTSD dogs are trained to “block” the owner. By that, I mean that the animal will move in front of the handler, blocking others from approaching in a non-aggressive manner. In working with individuals with severe PTSD, I find that the desire to keep others at enough of a distance to feel comfortable and secure is one of the strongest drivers of PTSD behavior. Having a dog that allows one to feel comfortable in public is a tremendous achievement for those with PTSD.
PTSD service dogs do more than just bring emotional comfort to veterans. As one veteran told me, “I could even go outside for a walk if I knew someone had my back!”
I am committed to learning as much as I can about PTSD service dogs over the next year. My hope is that once I’ve completed the training, I will be able to take part in providing service dogs to veterans with PTSD and that these animals will enrich the quality of their owner’s lives.