Did you know that service dogs can be trained to call 911 on a rescue phone? Learn more about service dogs and how they assist individuals with PTSD from this lesson. Then test your knowledge with a quiz following the lesson.
What is PTSD?
Sam was 19-years-old when his house burned to the ground. He doesn’t remember much about the fire itself; he just knows that he made it out and his father did not. Sam struggles with recurrent nightmares about the fire, avoids fireplaces or anything else that reminds him of the event, and is easily irritated.
Sam visits a psychologist who diagnoses him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological condition that results from experiencing a traumatic event.
The symptoms of PTSD are:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event, usually through nightmares or flashbacks related to the traumatic experience
- Avoidance, e.g. steering clear of things that might remind you of the traumatic experience, trying hard to forget about the traumatic experience, and numbing oneself emotionally
- Hypervigilence, also referred to as hyper-arousal, including being easily scared, having intense outbursts of anger, and problems with sleeping.
In order to help cope with his PTSD, Sam and his therapist agree that Sam should use a service dog.
What is a Service Dog?
The term service dog refers to a dog that has been specially trained to carry out beneficial tasks for a person who has a disability. For example, service dogs can be used to help people who are blind cross the street safely or open the door if their handler is not able to do so. Each service dog receives training that is specifically catered to their handler’s specific needs.
Since handlers rely upon their service dog’s assistance, the animals are permitted in a majority of places. Service dogs are allowed in places where non-service dogs usually are not, such as stores or museums. Exceptions do exist to this rule.
For example, a misbehaving dog may be asked to leave a business. Currently, there is not enough empirical research to determine whether or not individuals with PTSD benefit from service dogs. However, there are many individuals who have shared personal stories about how having a service dog has helped them. In 2015, the U.
S. Department of Veteran Affairs began a research study to determine the benefits of providing service dogs to individuals with PTSD.Let’s look at how a service dog has helped Sam manage his PTSD.
Service Dogs and PTSD
Sam’s service dog is trained to help him deal with the side effects of his medication, symptoms associated with PTSD, and emergency situations that require assistance from people outside Sam’s home.
One night Sam was having an intense flashback that led to him feeling intense terror and chest pains. Sam’s dog was able to sense Sam’s distress, locate his medicine, and bring the medicine and a beverage to Sam so he could alleviate the symptoms. The dog also brought Sam a phone so that he could call emergency services if needed. Sam’s dog knows how to open doors in the house and call 911 on a rescue phone. Each day the dog reminds Sam to take his medication by nudging him.In another instance, Sam was on his way to work when he came across a billboard that depicted a fire. This image caused Sam emotional distress and he began to cry.
Sensing his handler’s emotional overload, the service dog licked Sam’s face to bring him back to the present. This effectively calmed Sam and ended his reaction to the image.
Service dogs can benefit individuals with PTSD in others ways. These include signaling co-workers or supervisors for help, helping their handler become alert in certain situations after they have taken sedative medication, and waking the handler up at a specific time.
Service dogs also locate exits to help their handler escape a stressful situation and help the handler navigate crowded places. This is just a fraction of the ways that service dogs help their handlers throughout the day.
PTSD is a psychological disorder that results from experiencing a traumatic event.
Symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance, and hypervigilence. One method that has shown promise in helping individuals cope with PTSD is having a service dog. Service dogs receive specialized training to help the individual with PTSD manage the disorder. For example, service dogs can help the handler remain in the present, decrease their emotional distress, and remain safe in crowded areas. Research is currently underway to determine the benefits of providing service dogs to individuals with PTSD.