Ptsd canine therapy

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Lessons from "Case Reports" in Media Stories

Case Reports

. 2018 Jan 1;183(1-2):11-13.

doi: 10.1093/milmed/usx073.

Eric L Altschuler  1



  • 1 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Metropolitan Hospital, 1901 First Avenue, New York, NY, 10029. E-mail: [email protected].
  • PMID: 29401355
  • DOI: 10.1093/milmed/usx073

Case Reports

Eric L Altschuler. Mil Med. .

. 2018 Jan 1;183(1-2):11-13.

doi: 10.1093/milmed/usx073.


Eric L Altschuler  1


  • 1 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Metropolitan Hospital, 1901 First Avenue, New York, NY, 10029. E-mail: [email protected].
  • PMID: 29401355
  • DOI: 10.1093/milmed/usx073


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can follow war trauma, sexual abuse, other traumas, and even be experienced by commanders for the PTSD of their subordinates. Medications and counseling are sometimes not effective, so new treatments are needed. Some years ago, I suggested that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) (pet therapy) might be beneficial for PTSD. A large randomized controlled trial is underway of canine-assisted therapy for PTSD. Randomized controlled trials are most useful in assessing the efficacy of a medical intervention as these trials control for known and unknown biases. However, due to their very nature and rigorous requirements, knowledge gained from randomized controlled trials may need to be supplemented from other kinds of studies. Here, I note that media reports of AAT for PTSD may effectively function as case reports and suggest further studies: For PTSD, these demonstrate that (1) AAT can be dramatically effective in improving PTSD symptoms; (2) there is the potential for benefit from AAT by multiple different animals besides canines for PTSD; and (3) AAT may have a role in preventing suicide in patients with PTSD.

© Association of Military Surgeons of the United States 2017. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: [email protected].

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Dogs and PTSD - PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Available en Español

You may find a dog can lift your mood and be a good companion. There is not enough research to know if dogs help treat PTSD and symptoms. Learn about service dogs and emotional support dogs and the study VA is doing to learn more about dogs and PTSD.

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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.

Currently, there is not enough research to know if dogs help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by clinical 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.

What Are the Emotional Benefits of Having a Dog?

Dogs can make great pets. Having a dog as a pet can benefit anyone who likes dogs, including people with PTSD. For example, dogs:

  • Help bring out feelings of love.
  • Are good companions.
  • Take orders well when trained. This can be very comfortable for a Service member or Veteran who was used to giving orders in the military.
  • Are fun and can help reduce stress.
  • Are a good reason to get out of the house, spend time outdoors, and meet new people.

Recovering from PTSD

Recovering from PTSD is a process. Evidence-based treatments for PTSD help people do things they have been avoiding because of their PTSD, such as standing close to a stranger or going into a building without scanning it for danger first. Evidence-based treatments can also help people feel better. Dogs can help you deal with some parts of living with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective PTSD treatment.

Although people with PTSD who have a service dog for a physical disability or emotional support dog may feel comforted by the animal, there is some chance they may continue to believe that they cannot do certain things on their own. For example, if the dog keeps strangers from coming too close, the owner will not have a chance to learn that they can handle this situation without the dog. Becoming dependent on a dog can get in the way of the recovery process for PTSD. Based on what we know from research, evidence-based treatment provides the best chance of recovery from PTSD.

In This Article

Service dogs and emotional support dogs What do I need to know about dogs and PTSD? VA and service dogs

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

Service dogs

A service dog is a dog trained to do specific tasks for a person that the person cannot do because of a disability. Service dogs can pick things up, guide a person with vision problems, or help someone who falls or loses balance easily. For example, a service dog can help a blind person walk down the street or get dangerous things out of the way when someone is having a seizure.

Protecting someone, giving emotional support, or being a companion do not qualify a dog to be a service animal. To be a service dog, a dog must go through training. Usually the dog is trained to:

  • Do things that are different from natural dog behavior
  • Do things that the handler (dog owner) cannot do because of a disability
  • Learn to work with the handler in ways that help manage the handler's disability

Because the handler depends on the service dog's help, service dogs are allowed in most public places the handler goes. This is the case even if it is somewhere pet dogs usually cannot go, like restaurants or on airplanes. But there are a few exceptions. For example, service dogs can be asked to leave if they are not behaving well.

Emotional support dogs

An emotional support animal is a pet that helps an owner with a mental health condition. Emotional support dogs help owners feel better by giving friendship and companionship. These dogs are also called comfort dogs or support dogs.

An emotional support dog does not need special training. Generally, a regular pet can be an emotional support dog if a mental health provider writes a letter saying that the owner has a mental health condition or disability and needs the dog's help for emotional support.

In most states, emotional support dogs do not have special permission to go to all public places like service dogs do. But, emotional support dogs are sometimes allowed special consideration. For example, the owner may be able to get permission to have an emotional support pet in a house or apartment that does not normally allow dogs. Or, the owner may be able to get permission to fly on a plane together with the dog.

To get special permissions, the dog owner needs to show a provider's letter to the landlord or airline. Sometimes, the landlord or airline will also want to see information about the provider, such as a copy of their professional license.

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What Do I Need to Know about Dogs and PTSD?

Pets, service animals, and emotional support dogs need owners who can provide for them. Dogs require constant attention and care. It is a good idea to discuss getting a dog with your doctor or family before making the decision. If you have PTSD and are worried that it may be hard for you to provide a safe, caring home for a dog, it may be good to wait until after you get treatment for your PTSD and feel better.

You may already have a dog that helps you feel better or do things you would not otherwise do. But learning more about evidence-based PTSD treatments is important. Unlike people who have service dogs because they have permanent disabilities (like blindness or seizure disorders), people with PTSD can get better with treatment.

If you are looking for a service dog or emotional support dog, we recommend you carefully research any organizations you contact. You should only get a dog if you are confident it is well trained. The organization should be able to answer any questions you have.

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VA and Service Dogs

VA has started a research study to see if having a service dog or emotional support dog helps people with PTSD do more activities and have a better quality of life. The study is expected to take several years to complete. The National Center for PTSD is not involved in this study, but we will provide results when they become available.

VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments. If research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD, VA will provide veterinary care for such dogs. Read more information on VA and service dogs.

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Dogs Helping Through Trauma – DW – 10/17/2017

Photo: DW/B.Hinrichs


Beate Hinrichs | Inga Wanner

October 17, 2017

Victims of violence and eyewitnesses of terrible events are hard and long processing what happened. Specially trained dogs help them return to normal life.


"Without Nick, I just wouldn't be able to leave the house," admits Katrin Müller, owner of a cute border collie. "I feel safe with him, he protects me," says the young woman. And indeed: the dog is extremely concentrated, almost does not react to oncoming dogs. He literally paves the way for his mistress, showing her a safe route option - one where there are fewer pedestrians.

Looking at a woman walking energetically along the sidewalk, it is hard to guess that she has been overcome by fears since childhood, and at night she is tormented by nightmares. She could not cope with the consequences of the violence experienced. Now the Border Collie helps her with this. Nick is an assistant dog for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Reliable assistant

Rescue and guide dogs have been helping people for a long time. After the First World War, dogs became faithful companions of veterans who lost their sight. Later, they began to accompany wheelchair users, to help people suffering from epileptic seizures. Specially trained dogs are able to warn diabetic patients about a sharp drop in blood sugar.

A few years ago in Germany, dogs began to be trained to help victims of violence cope with fears - symptoms of PTSD.

Kathrin Müller worked for many years in a government agency and traveled frequently on business trips. And at the same time, she was always in great tension and tried to make contact with people as little as possible. “My husband always did the shopping, because I often had panic attacks in the supermarket. I rarely left the house alone,” recalls Katrin Müller.

Nick helped the woman return to her normal life. Previously, going to the ATM terrified her, now she knows that her faithful friend always covers the rear. But the dog is not always able to accompany her: the fact that Catherine Muller needs a four-legged guide, supermarket employees often have to first explain and prove by showing documents.

Psychotherapy and training

The main task of assistance dogs is to switch the attention of their ward suffering from PTSD syndrome from an object or event that may cause him unpleasant memories. Dogs that have undergone special training are sensitive to changes in the mood and emotional state of their owner. “Nick pushes me until I come to my senses and take the actions that I was taught during therapy,” says Katrin Müller. “I take out something from my ambulance bag that helps me defuse stress. For example, you can pick up a ball with thorns or bite off a piece of hot pepper - my body switches to pain and bitterness, and I return to reality” , says the woman.

This is hard work for both. It is necessary to train such a dog for two years. The Border Collie is best suited for this mission. Dogs of this breed are considered almost the most intelligent, explains Dagmar Tennhoff (Dagmar Tennhoff). The professional cynologist founded the Faithful Dog training school in the Westphalian town of Nordkirchen. "50 percent is dog training and 50 percent is owner training," she emphasizes.

Catherine Müller agrees with her trainer. Joint classes showed that she can now trust her dog one hundred percent. "Nick will help me out in any situation," she is sure.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Dogs

In October 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported on a dog named Gunner who was trained to detect mines and brought to Afghanistan for this purpose. The military actions frightened the poor dog so much that by decision of the US Marine Corps he was returned home. At home, Ganner showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The phenomenon of PTSD among dogs has been talked about and then covered in the media relatively recently; among veterinarians to this day there is no stable opinion regarding this mental state of animals. They believe that one should not unequivocally state that a dog is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, when only a minor emotional outburst can take place. However, many agree that dogs that have undergone certain mental traumas, like Gunner, behave, to some extent, as if they had typical PTSD.

Dr. Christopher Paschel, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist based in Portland, Oregon, says that in his years of working with dogs, he has come across dogs that exhibit clinical behaviors consistent with PTSD.

« In my practice, there have been cases of treating dogs that behaved as described by their owners. The consequences of the dog's trauma, which the owners told us about, were more like signs of post-traumatic stress disorder than the usual feelings of fear and anxiety that were found in other dogs ". In cases like this, Paschel says, the main stumbling block to diagnosing characteristic PTSD is the inability to know what's on the dog's mind.

« I talk about this phenomenon with caution, because in relation to a person, the diagnosis of "post-traumatic stress disorder" is made in the presence of obsessive thoughts or a tendency, like frames of a filmstrip, to twist events in the head. When it comes to dogs, everything is not so obvious: we can and will notice something similar in animals, but we cannot understand what exactly is going on in their minds ".

In the opinion of Dr. Paschel, a dog should be treated appropriately after any severe emotional shock or trauma, whether it is clinical PTSD or a nervous breakdown of another etiology.


  • Prerequisites of PTSR
  • How to understand that the dog needs to be treated
  • What to do if the PTSR is suspected of
  • Symptoms at

Prerequisites of PTSR

can turn the dog into shock all kinds hurricanes and tornadoes (39, 40 of the “Canine Interpreter” series), before a car accident, clarifying relationships between people at the household level, as well as physical or mental injuries that occurred as a result of contact with a person or other animals.

Here is what Dr. Paschel says about this: “ I have seen how an overwhelming feeling of fear seizes a dog when a relative attacks or a person suddenly appears from around a corner. In addition, I have worked with pets that, after learning to resist an offender, either flinch in fear or are aggressive towards a person who wants to take them by the collar or by the leash. Such a reaction in this case is unnatural; this leads to the conclusion that this is the animal's response to traumas that it has suffered in the past ".

How to understand that a dog needs treatment

No one is immune from the fact that one day his pet will be in a stressful situation and become overly excited. But at what point does it become necessary to show the dog to a specialist?

Dr. Paschel highlights two signs that will indicate the inevitability of professional treatment of a dog:

  1. Too severe or extremely severe reaction. « In my practice, there was a case when the owners had three pets, one of which behaved in a certain environment much more emotionally than the others ". Paschel cites this example as evidence that the root causes of this behavior should be investigated immediately: " This dog reacts to the situation differently than the other two dogs, which may be an excuse to look into the reasons for such behavior in more detail ".
  2. The duration of the emotional reaction. « Having been in a car accident, I would probably have been in a tense state for the next three days. Then, with the next exit by car without such consequences, my fear should disappear. If this did not happen, and my condition would become worse over time while driving a car, obviously, the problem would not have been so easily solved ,” as Dr. Paschel explains, when treating a person, doctors usually diagnose a condition more profound than banal stress if the patient has symptoms for more than a month. According to him, " if persistent overreactions last at least a month without a clear improvement in the person's condition, the help of a specialist is most likely to be required."

What to do if you suspect PTSD

If your dog has experienced a stressful situation or emotional trauma, Dr. Paschel recommends seeking professional help before his condition worsens.

« They brought me a dog that had seen a tornado. The pet experienced a lot of stress in connection with the fall of a tree on the house. The dog's anxiety continued to grow and a couple of days later, when someone accidentally slammed the door, the dog jumped out of the second floor of the house. This is one of the examples when a dog needs to be urgently shown to a specialist. To delay the moment in the hope of an improvement in the situation is pointless ”, according to Dr. Paschel.

The most expedient thing, according to the doctor, is to make an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist. If your county doesn't have one, visit a veterinarian. He will help solve the underlying problem and, perhaps, recommend additional diagnostics, do exercises specially designed for such cases, or prescribe medication.

PTSD symptoms

A canine veterinary behaviorist will take your pet's medical history and assess its current condition. He then examines the changes in dog behavior that occur when the desired response is stimulated, through regular training, or through home exercise.

Learn more