PTSD Service Dogs
Many IDF soldiers and veterans, as well as other Israelis, have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)—a debilitating illness characterized by recurring nightmares, frequent panic attacks, depression, and other trauma symptoms. Often, those with PTSD fear sleep because persistent nightmares torment and awaken them.
Israel Guide Dog Center has begun a program of training service dogs in particular skills to help IDF veterans and soldiers suffering from these devastating effects of trauma. Studies—and reports from Israel Guide Dog Center’s PTSD clients—demonstrate PTSD service dogs can significantly alleviate the frequency and severity of trauma symptoms.
How Our PTSD Service Dogs Help
Our PTSD service dogs have already shown to be effective in assisting people living with PTSD by:
• Calming them during panic attacks
• Waking them from nightmares and reducing nightmare frequency and severity
• Orienting them and calming anxiety and stress in public situations
• Increasing feelings of personal safety
• Reducing anxiety when reacting to loud noises
• Helping forge personal connections
• Providing companionship to reduce depression, isolation and guilt feelings.
A PTSD service dog detects when people are stressed or anxious, e.g., they hear laboured breathing. Then, the dogs interrupt the increasing anxiety by distracting the person, offering comfort by hugging them (jumping with two or four paws) and licking the person’s face. When the dogs realize their partners are having nightmares, flashbacks, or panic attacks, they are trained to disrupt the episode and offer comfort.
Waking Up to a Brighter Future
People who suffer from PTSD dread reliving their experiences through nightmares. Because of this, they fear going to sleep—and a fear of their bedroom—causing a downward spiral. Consequently, this results in a lack of sleep, creating ever-deepening depression.
We have already seen dramatic results. Most significantly, we find when someone who has PTSD knows they can rely on a four-legged best friend to stop the nightmares consistently, the frequency and intensity of the nightmares steadily decline. This leads to better sleep—and thus reduced depression and anxiety. We do not know if nightmares will permanently cease (our study periods have not been long enough yet), but we have already seen beneficial results.
“IGDCB has not just given me a dog. They’ve given me the gift of life.”
Eyes in the Back of Your Head
We train a PTSD service dog in the “Watch” command—to watch his partner’s back by sitting next to him and facing the other direction. Acting on this command, the dog creates the feeling of “eyes in the back of the partner’s head” to detect if someone or something is approaching from behind. We also train our dogs in the “Block” command to stand between their partner and another person or object to create space—a safety zone—around the partner. As a result of gaining this safe space, a person with PTSD becomes calmer in crowded public areas—reducing anxiety and averting a potential panic attack.
Training Service Dogs in Israel
Training service dogs to help individuals with PTSD requires in-depth knowledge and skills—for both trainer and dog. PTSD service dogs must be wise, obedient and intuitive to help our clients when they face a crisis. Israel Guide Dog Center’s training team works to identify and evaluate the best dogs for this role, and we train them to recognize and interrupt PTSD behaviours. Our trainers pick the right dog for the right person to create a successful Partnership.
Having PTSD service dogs in Israel is relatively new, and we are one of the few organizations providing this service.
“My PTSD dog has taken a great burden from my family—and me. Whether I am at home or I go outside, they know my new best friend is there to comfort me.”
PTSD Service Dogs: Partners in Caring
Clients with PTSD must care for their service dogs. They must get up, take the dog out, feed and groom the dog, and take care of their canine partner’s health and socialization needs. These responsibilities give clients a renewed sense of purpose, forcing them to get out of bed daily and out of the house daily, creating a positive routine. This all results in improving clients’ self-image while reducing depression and isolation.
How Can I Help?
We provide our Guide Dogs Free of Charge to our blind or visually impaired clients. This is only possible because of the support we receive from people like you. We are a small non-profit that makes a huge difference, but we need your help to spread the word.