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The Power of Canine Companionship in PTSD Rehabilitation

The Power of Canine Companionship in PTSD Rehabilitation

Canines and humans have a special bond, and the relationship between an owner with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their service dog is one of the best examples of this soulmate-type of connection.

PTSD is the result of a traumatic event. Symptoms—including anger, isolation, sleeplessness, mood swings, headaches and flashbacks to the source of the trauma—can disrupt a person’s daily life. A service dog that is trained to assist owners with daily tasks impacted by PTSD can offer comfort and support during symptom outbreaks and be a source of physical and psychological healing.

The Science Behind Canine Companionship in Healing

Research from UCLA Health found humans receive multiple benefits from canine companionship: 

  • Reduced levels of loneliness and anxiety
  • Stress relief
  • An increase in mood-boosting hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin
  • A decrease in physical pain
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved brain function and memory recall, particularly for people with neurological conditions or injuries
  • A strong sense of comfort and support

When people feel stronger in body and mind, that inner strength can help their healing process. For example, an emotional support animal allows the owner to reap the physical and mental health benefits of owning a service dog; however, the animal is not trained to assist with any specific tasks. Emotional support animals provide companionship and support, which can help with feelings of anxiety or depression. The effect of service animal on an owners’ mental health is largely positive, helping them feel less alone, especially when they’re struggling. 

It’s essential to understand what your needs are so that you can find a companion that is the perfect fit for you.

Training Canine Companions for PTSD Rehabilitation

Similar to other necessary medical equipment that help people with disabilities in their daily lives, service dogs undergo specific training, allowing them to perform helpful tasks that address their owner’s particular mental or physical condition. 

It’s interesting to note that training a service dog can actually be beneficial for people with PTSD. One study found that adolescents with PTSD who participated in a year-long dog training program had better emotional and attention regulation compared to their peers who weren’t in a program. The Department of Veterans Affairs is implementing a five-year pilot program under the 2021 Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, in which veterans can train service dogs as a way to manage their PTSD.

Specific Skills and Traits Required

Many breeds are well-suited to serve as service dogs for people with PTSD, particularly dogs with calm demeanors who can help their owners relax when they are struggling with their symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association mentions several tasks a service dog could perform for owners with PTSD, such as: 

  • Creating a safe space with their body if their owner feels unsafe
  • Lying down or leaning on their owner to create a soothing pressure
  • Nudging the owner when the dog senses an impending anxiety or panic attack
  • Providing cover to an owner from behind
  • Waking their human from a nightmare

Matching Service Dogs with PTSD Patients

With non-service animals, it’s important for a dog and its owner to establish trust and a strong connection to maximize the mental health benefits of owning a pet.. And that’s especially critical for an owner and a service dog. That’s why matching a canine companion and owner according to temperament and lifestyle is essential. 

The right service dog complements the rehabilitation journey and contributes to its owner’s overall sense of wellness, so it’s helpful for people to work with a breeder or training program that takes the time and effort to make a perfect match, allowing for a lifetime bond to be formed.

Responsibilities of PTSD Patients with Service Dogs

Owners of service dogs have the same responsibilities as any other dog owner when it comes to the care and feeding of their animal. They must commit to providing food, exercise, medical care—and of course, lots of love—before bringing the animal into their home. 

People who own a PTSD service dog have additional obligations. They must be a full participant in the training process, learning commands and laying the foundation for a strong bond with their animal. This sets the stage for a true emotional connection and enhanced communication between human and canine.

Stories of Transformation and Healing

People with PTSD can reap many mental health benefits through the bond with their service dog. It’s a relationship that is unique, joyous and life-changing for dogs and humans alike.

Inspiring Story of Recovery and Resilience

“I tried to commit suicide three times. And I am still here because I got help,” Army veteran José Romero told NBC News. That help came in the form of his service dog Poppy, who was essential as Romero grappled with PTSD after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without his canine companion, he said, “I would have killed myself … I would never have seen how life could be so good.”

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About the Author


Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.


Calm Tempered, AKC Purebred, and Certified Genetics.