Service Dogs & PTS

Service dogs have been formally recognized as a useful and often crucial part of the lives of injured and disabled Americans since passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to 1990, service animals were recognized only to support the blind and the deaf. As a result of that legislation, service dogs have since been trained and certified to assist people in a range of different ways. Here are a few of the tasks service dogs perform to support people experiencing the effects of post-traumatic stress (PTS): 

Combat suicidal thoughts and feelings
The deadliest effect of severe depression is unequivocally the intrusive thoughts of suicide. Having a service dog can help combat those thoughts in a few ways. For one, a dog is a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They may be service animals, but they still have to be fed, walked, and cared for. The act of getting out of bed can be like trying to get the weight of the world off your shoulders for someone with PTS depression but with a specific and immediate purpose to focus on, like caring for an animal, that effort can be eased. A dog can also quell feelings of loneliness and isolation. You’re never really alone with a dog by your side. 

Reduce anxiety
Another hallmark effect of PTS is anxiety. Oftentimes, crowds are a trigger of anxiety, especially for service members. Service dogs are trained to react to their handler’s anxiety attacks with actions that get their attention such as licking, pawing, or nudging. This causes the person with PTS to redirect their attention to the dog and can help cut off the anxiety mid-attack. 

Disrupt night terrors
Similar to anxiety, night terrors are another common disruptive effect of PTS. A service dog knows how to identify night terrors when their handler is experiencing them and can wake them up through similar actions applied during an anxiety attack. Some dogs can even turn on light switches to wake their handler up. 

Relieving hypervigilance 
After returning from the traumatic experiences of the battlefield and attacks, it’s common for hypervigilance, an elevated state of constantly assessing potential threats around you, to be a part of a service member’s PTS symptoms. Service dogs can be trained to do room checks and let their handler know that the rooms are safe and there’s no imminent danger. 

Service dogs play a transformative and life-saving role for people with PTS. Our Intrepid Spirit Centers, help injured service members address the many other facets of living with PTS. A six-week intensive outpatient program offered at the centers (located on military bases around the country) brings wide-ranging disciplines of treatment, from psychotherapy and sleep therapy to art and music therapy, under one roof, making treatment easy and accessible for the brave men and women who step up to serve our country. Learn more about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund’s mission and consider making a donation today.


Posted on September 11 2022 in Blog

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