The findings of a newly published study led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine provide further evidence of the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD and helps identify more specifically which dogs and human-animal interactions lead to the best outcomes. The research, led by Dr. Maggie O’Haire, associate professor of Human-Animal Interaction in the College of Veterinary Medicine with the help of K9s For Warriors and support from the Dogtopia Foundation, will help maximize the benefits for service dog and veteran pairs and improve mental health and quality of life for more veterans with PTSD.
Key findings from the study include:
- Veterans and service dogs spend about 20 hours together per day on average, comprising about 82 percent of their time.
- The most common and important task veterans ask their service dogs to do is to calm and comfort anxiety.
- Veterans with worse depression were more likely to ask their dogs to initiate a social connection or help make a friend.
- Veterans with more anxiety and fewer PTSD symptoms were more likely to ask their service dog to signal when someone was approaching from behind.
- The strongest bonds were seen with service dogs who were less excitable and humans who found caring for their service dog to be easy and convenient.
- Lower PTSD symptoms and better mental health were seen among veterans with less excitable service dogs and those with a stronger human-animal bond.
The three-year study was conducted from 2017 to 2020 and involved 82 veterans with PTSD and their 82 service dogs from K9s For Warriors. O’Haire’s team video-recorded behavior tests with the dogs, asked the veterans about their mental health and used smartphone technology to measure daily emotions and how much time veterans spent with their service dogs.
“The ultimate goal of our research is to amplify the voices of veterans and their families through science,” said O’Haire, who has been conducting research on service dogs and veterans for seven years across three studies with a fourth ongoing study. “We are providing quantifiable data that shows how service dogs can improve symptoms and quality of life for certain veterans with PTSD.”
The therapeutic role of service dogs for PTSD is contentious due to a limited evidence base. A core evidence evaluator is the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who is the largest integrated health care, benefits and service provider for military veterans. Despite long veteran waitlists for service dogs, the VA has hesitated to fund service dogs for PTSD due to a lack of clinical evidence supporting their efficacy. Evidence is required to prevent the need for service dogs from being minimized and unsupported.
“We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD and are proud to support Dr. O’Haire’s ground-breaking research,” said Liz Meyers, executive director of the Dogtopia Foundation, the charitable arm of the leading dog daycare franchise, Dogtopia. “Until financial support improves for the men and women who bravely served our country, we remain committed to raising funds to train service dogs for veterans with PTSD and increasing awareness of the need through the efforts of our franchisees who are incredibly dedicated to this worthy cause.”
In partnership with Dogtopia’s franchise network of nearly 200 dog daycares, the Dogtopia Foundation has raised money to help sponsor 187 service dogs since the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization was established in 2017. This number includes more than 60 dogs who have been sponsored in partnership with K9s For Warriors over the last year.
More information about Dr. O’Haire’s study can be found at PLOS ONE. For more information about the Dogtopia Foundation and how you can support its efforts, visit Dogtopia Foundation. If you are interested in learning more about the Dogtopia franchise in general, click here.