Closer Veteran-Service Dog Bond Tied to Lower PTSD Severity

Calm, less excitable dog may be better suited to help reduce PTSD symptoms

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THURSDAY, July 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Service dog partnerships are associated with less posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severity and better mental health for some veterans, according to a study published online July 27 in PLOS ONE.

Clare L. Jensen, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and colleagues longitudinally assessed 82 post-9/11 military members or veterans and their PTSD service dogs to evaluate service dog characteristics as potential predictors of efficacy, as well as dog and human characteristics as potential predictors of veteran-dog bond.

The researchers found that most service dog characteristics did not predict veterans' mental health outcomes, but lower service dog excitability was associated with reduced PTSD symptom severity at follow-up. Less excitable dog temperament was also associated with closer dog-veteran relationships. Worse mental health at follow-up was associated with greater use of the specifically trained PTSD service dog task to initiate a social greeting ("make a friend"), while better mental health was associated with less use of dominance-based training methods, lower perceived emotional/logistical costs of service dog partnership, and closer veteran-dog relationships. Veterans spent the majority of their time (82 percent) with service dogs and most frequently asked their dogs to perform the trained task for calming their anxiety (calm/comfort anxiety).

"Findings must be considered within the caveats of this being a preliminary and exploratory study from which we cannot determine the causality of effects," the authors write.

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