According to the official site for Veterans Affairs, “owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.
Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been done.”
While the VA may offer clinical evidence of the positive results dogs can produce, psychology experts have identified six ways that canines help heal PTSD:
- Steadiness / vigilance:
Much like the buddy system used in the military, dogs provide a non-stop feeling of security, especially at weak moments like when sleeping or heightened anxiety. No sailor or soldier is alone on the battlefield or at home when accompanied by a dog. Nightmares can be immediately eased with the presence of a dog as can fears that arise unexpectedly. There’s a reason why there’s the old saying that a dog is a man’s best friend.
Whether you’re asleep or simply have your back turned, a dog will always have your safety at the top of his/her priority list. Again, a dog is a man’s best friend not just because of companionship but because of the nonst0p protection and safety they provide.
- Dog’s like authority and leadership:
Much like the hierarchy in the military, canines are forever sensing and responding to authority and leadership in a relationship. They want to be told what to do and to have you as their leader. Veterans and officers work in environments of strict hierarchy where orders are given and expected to be followed without question. Many veterans and officers will find that family members do not respond as positively to being given orders as their colleagues, but dogs love having a strong leader.
- Unconditional love:
Military personnel returning to civilian life or on leave can find trust to be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Officers constantly in the line of duty can also experience depression and a feeling of isolation. Dogs do not judge you. They want your love no matter what and the constant positive support dogs offer can help restore the ability to trust again.
- Relearning trust:
Going hand-in-glove with unconditional love from a dog is learning how to trust someone again. Trust is the cornerstone for building better friendships and family members and dogs are a great way to flex those mental muscles of trust and companionship that may have been weakened due to the stress of your deployment of job.
- Remembering how to love:
Returning from the battlefield or working a dangerous police or fire assignment can erode and destroy your trust of others and your ability to love. This is not unusual. The nonstop negativity of those jobs often leads to feelings of disassociation and distance from others. Dogs offer unconditional love which helps reinforce your ability to care for others. It is not unusual to have soldiers or officers who feel closer to their dogs then other people. Long journeys begin with small steps and one of the safest steps someone with PTSD can make is to find a dog to befriend. The animal’s desire to be loved will become infectious and help you to learn how to trust and love again.
For more about the therapeutic effects of canines, please refer to 4leggers’s PTSD & Dogs page that answers all of the frequently asked questions.
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