How Assistance Dogs can help people with PTSD
Assistance dogs have long been recognised as valuable companions for people with physical disabilities, but their potential to aid people with mental health conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is increasingly being acknowledged. These specially trained animals can provide a sense of security, companionship, and emotional support, helping individuals with PTSD to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. In this article, we will explore the benefits of assistance dogs for people with PTSD and C-PTSD, including the ways in which they can be trained.
Pets, and specifically dogs offer numerous forms of support to PTSD and C-PTSD sufferers, depending on the specific needs of the individual. Dogs can support them with physical support, practical tasks, through emotional support or even interrupting self harm behaviours.
Experts say that dogs have also been successful in aiding the recovery of sexual assault victims, being uniquely suited to help them overcome trust and relationship issues. Furthermore, it is suggested that dogs are a great way for an people to practise controlling stress levels and regulating their tone of voice.
Research offers strong support for the general value of pets and data shows that PTSD and C-PTSD patients with a dog are able to sleep more, and have higher levels of oxytocin and dopamine with reduced cortisol, the stress hormone.
Assistance dogs can also be trained to support their owners through providing things such as:
- Improved self-sufficiency, as assistance dogs can be trained to assist in daily tasks
- Provides a grounding for the patient through the dog’s consistent and positive presence
- Deep Pressure Therapy
- Self Harm Interruptions
- Repetitive Motion Interruptions
- Crowd Control
- Guide to Exit
- Marking Blood Pressure/Heart rate changes
- Bracing for Dissociation episodes and blackouts
- ‘Being my company as I am fearful of people and strangers’
- Waking up their owner when they have a night terror
- Ease symptoms of hypervigilance by searching the house to ensure it is secure
- Guiding a patient home during an episode where they don’t have full control of their faculties
- Provide tactile stimulation to help with anxiety attacks
You can click on each of the case studies below to read and watch more about how these amazing dogs (some trained through Adolescent Dogs, and some self-trained) support their owners with PTSD and C-PTSD.
Assistance dogs vs Supportive pets
Dogs and other pets can be a huge support for someone with PTSD or C-PTSD, but what makes a dog an ‘Assistance Dog’ rather than a pet? The answer: very specialist training. There are a small number of organisations that are able to train and supply Assistance dogs for people with PTSD or C-PTSD (more details below) and you can also train a dog yourself (find out more about owner training here).
It’s important to note that there is no specific test, or ‘exam’ that dogs need to undertake to be qualified as an Assistance Dog to authorise them access to public areas. There are a number of organisations that offer ‘public access tests’ or tests to be a ‘registered Assistance Dog’ however, these are not required to have a dog be considered an Assistance Dog (but they can help if you’re challenged!). Assistance dogs are not pets and are treated as ‘auxiliary aids which help mitigate a disability’ which, based on the Equality Act 2010 states they have certain access rights. You can find out more about your rights with an Assistance Dog from the Equality and Human Rights Commission here.
Assistance dogs are highly trained which means they:
- will not wander freely around the premises
- will sit or lie quietly on the floor next to their owner
- are unlikely to foul in a public place
Most are instantly recognisable by a harness or jacket. However, the law does not require the dog to wear a harness or jacket to identify it as an assistance dog.
Some, but not all assistance dog users, will carry an ID book giving information about the assistance dog and the training organisation together with other useful information. Again, this is not a legal requirement and assistance dog users should not be refused a service simply because they do not possess an ID book. Assistance dogs can also be owner trained and the owner selects their own dog to fit their own requirements.
How do you get an Assistance Dog for PTSD or C-PTSD?
There are only a small number of organisations that are able to train and supply Assistance dogs for people with PTSD or C-PTSD (more details below) but you can also train a dog yourself (find out more about self-training options with Adolescent Dogs )
We’re currently an affiliate partner with Adolescent Dogs, which means that for everyone who signs up to their online owner Assistance Dogs training programme, they will make a donation to PTSD UK for as long as you’re a member. Simply sign up by clicking here.
One organisation that can provide ‘ready trained’ dogs for PTSD sufferers is Service Dogs UK who train and provide PTSD Assistance Dogs, selected carefully from rescue, to support members of the Armed Forces and Emergency Services (including Coast Guard, RNLI and UKSAR) based in West Sussex, Surrey and East & North Hampshire. You can find out more about them here.
It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD or C-PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
In order to honour our dogs, and raise awareness of PTSD UK you can now buy a PTSD UK supporters bandana for your furry friend from our Supporters Shop! We’ve also got an amazing product collaboration with Love Harlso which you can find out more a bout here, or get your PTSD UK x Love Harlso bandana or lead!
If you’ve got a dog who helps support you, why not sign up to our next PTSD UK Wagathon in August!!
The annual Wagathon® event is set to take place this August and we’d love for you and your pooch to get involved to support PTSD UK!
This new annual challenge is set to be huge with fundraisers across the UK challenging themselves and their pooches to complete a 9K walk during the August Bank Holiday Weekend – all whilst wearing their new PTSD UK dog bandana of course! Find out more, and sign up to the PTSD UK Wagathon here
Brooks, H.L., Rushton, K., Lovell, K. et al. The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry 18, 31 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2
Service Dogs for Sexual-Assault Survivors Roni Jacobson
- Alternative and Complementary Therapies.Oct 2008.251-256.http://doi.org/10.1089/act.2008.14505Published in Volume: 14 Issue 5: October 21, 2008
Can service dogs help with anxiety? Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP— Written by Jayne Leonard
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You’ll find up-to-date news, research and information here along with some great tips to ease your PTSD in our blog.
Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.