Characteristics and processes that may underpin the mental health repercussions of these encounters were investigated in a recent study using service dogs employed by American troops suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Clare Jensen of Purdue University in Indiana, USA, and colleagues led the study, which was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Previous study indicates that partnering a veteran with a service dog reduces the severity of PTSD. The processes behind these possible advantages, however, remain unknown.
Jensen and colleagues evaluated 82 military members or veterans and their service dogs, all of which had been trained to treat PTSD symptoms. The veterans completed a variety of different surveys before and after the three-month period together, allowing the researchers to collect additional observations to capture a full perspective of veteran-dog relationships.
The researchers initially examined survey and record findings pertaining to personal traits of service dogs and veterans, as well as the closeness of their relationship.
Except for decreased dog excitability, which was connected to lower severity of PTSD symptoms and a deeper veteran-dog interaction, they discovered that most of the dog attributes studied were not associated with better or worse veteran mental health outcomes.
The researchers next investigated probable pathways behind mental health symptom relief by assessing the findings of questionnaires and observations that recorded dog behaviour, training techniques, and the usage of specific learned activities.
Better mental health was linked to a variety of things, including a positive view of the dog’s care and a better veteran-dog bond.
The study also discovered a correlation between severe sadness and requesting support dogs to initiate social greetings more frequently. Veterans who often requested their dogs to alert them to a human approaching from behind had higher anxiety but less severe PTSD symptoms.
More study will be required to build on these findings, which might lead to a greater knowledge of how to identify veterans who could benefit from service dogs, as well as how to effectively choose and train canines.
Clare Jensen adds: “This study provides new information about how and why service dogs may improve mental health for some veterans with PTSD. We are especially grateful to the military veterans who made this possible by sharing their time and experiences with us.”