Dogs are not only man's best friend. They could also be lifesavers for war and army veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many veterans with PTSD say service dogs save their lives. However, it is hard to show quantifiable research to prove this claim. To answer this dilemma, researchers from the Purdue University of Indiana are studying veterans and their service dogs
Studying War Vets And Service Dogs
The researchers studied about 100 veterans and their service dogs to know if there is a chemical reaction ignited by service dogs in their owners and vice versa. Maggie O'Haire, associate professor of human-animal interaction in Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine, is leading the research. O'Haire has devoted years probing how service dogs might offer both physiological and behavioral benefits to veterans with PTSD.
In 2014, O'Haire started researching about service dogs and veterans. Her pilot study in 2015 to 2016 showed that overall symptoms of PTSD were lower among war veterans with service dogs.
A study published last year used physiological markers to define the biobehavioral effects of service dogs on veterans with PTSD.
"Our long-term research goal is to quantify how service dogs may affect the health and well-being of military members and veterans with PTSD," said O'Haire.
At present, she is leading a large-scale National Institutes of Health clinical trial on veterans with and without service dogs over an extended period of time.
Rising Need For Service Dogs
The need for service dogs trained to assist people with PTSD or reduced mobility has expanded as veterans started returning from multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sully, the Labrador service dog of the late President George H.W. Bush, is doing well as a part of a team of rehabilitation dogs serving veterans at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
To address the surging demand for specially trained dogs to detect security threats and assist veterans, the State University of New York at Cobleskill will offer a four-year program in "canine training and management" starting this fall.
"I do believe this is the first of its kind of this caliber of degree," said Nick Hof, chairman of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, referring to the program being offered at a major university.
Students who will enroll in the program may also take many science courses to learn about dog health, nutrition, and genetics.
Vets Involved In Canine Training Program
Another program in Chittenango, New York offers a canine program as an alternative form of therapy for veterans diagnosed with PTSD. The year-long dog training initiated by Clear Path for Veterans is meant to relieve some of the symptoms of the illness.
Some 30 to 40 veterans and their dogs in the program can participate in the six-month training for companion animals and a more intense service animal training.