Posted by & filed under Anxiety OC PTSD, General Psychology, Health Psychology, Intervention: Adults-Couples, Intervention: Identifying Key Elements of Change, Legal Ethical Issues, Motivation-Emotion, Stress, Stress Coping - Health, Stress: Coping Reducing, Treatment of Psychological Disorders.

Description: I bet you have heard about the use of companion dogs in the work with returning military veterans who are dealing with issues of PTSD. Having had dogs I have always thought that the use of dogs as aid or companion animals for those with PTSD issues makes a lot of sense. As with all potential clinical psychological treatments or interventions, however, seeming like a good idea is not enough to prove their efficacy. Clinical ethics require that only those approaches to treatment or therapy that have been demonstrated effective by research assessment should be utilized with clients. So, are you aware of research supporting the use of companion dogs with veterans dealing with symptoms of PTSD? There is not as much as you might expect. Think for a moment about how you would design such research. What would you measure? How would you measure it (e.g., self-reports of wellbeing and/or other measures or assessments)? Would you use random assignment (dog vs no dog) and if so how would you do that ethically? Once you have your design decisions in mind have a read through the article linked below that describes one such study and which discusses some of the researchers’ design decisions.

Source: Lending a paw for defense veterans: ’Clear evidence’ that assistance dogs help improve mental health. Science News, ScienceDaily.

Date: March 1, 2023

Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

Article Link:

The article is a bit light in its description of the specific methods utilized in the research study. The use of self-reports, interviews and clinical assessments (called multi-methods) is solid as it addresses the limitations of single methods. They also indicate that they did not include a “no dog” groups but do not say why. If you follow the link to the full published research article in the References area below you can scroll down towards the end and see the detailed limitations section they included in their research write-up. There they explain that having a no-dog group in a longitudinal study is difficult as it requires those in the no-dog group to go for quite a ling time without the ‘treatment’ being researched being available to them. They suggest that a waitlist control group (i.e., a group who is give the opportunity to have a companion dog after the study data has been gathered) would be worth considering in future studies. The researchers close their article by suggesting that de4spite the limited number of companion dogs a variable their efficacy when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment as demonstrated by their research argue for an examination of ways to make more dogs available to more veterans dealing with PTSD. A reasonable suggestion.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why do you think (if you do) that dogs are good companion animals for people dealing with symptoms of PTSD?
  2. What did the research described in the linked article indicate about the efficacy of companion dogs in coping with PTSD?
  3. Do the researchers have sufficiently strong data to make the action/policy suggestions that they make about the role of companion dogs in treatment of PTSD?

References (Read Further):

Sherman, M., Hutchinson, A., Bowen, H., Iannos, M., & Van Hooff, M. (2023). Effectiveness of Operation K9 Assistance Dogs on Suicidality in Australian Veterans with PTSD: A 12-Month Mixed-Methods Follow-Up Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(4), 3607. Link

Nieforth, L. O., Rodriguez, K. E., & O’Haire, M. E. (2022). Expectations versus experiences of veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) service dogs: An inductive conventional content analysis. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 14(3), 347. Link

Jensen, C. L., Rodriguez, K. E., & O’Haire, M. E. (2021). Service dogs for veterans and military members with posttraumatic stress disorder: replication with the PTSD checklist for DSM‐5. Journal of traumatic stress, 34(1), 221-228. Link

LaFollette, M. R., Rodriguez, K. E., Ogata, N., & O’Haire, M. E. (2019). Military veterans and their PTSD service dogs: associations between training methods, PTSD severity, dog behavior, and the human-animal bond. Frontiers in veterinary science, 23. Link

Rodriguez, K. E., LaFollette, M. R., Hediger, K., Ogata, N., & O’Haire, M. E. (2020). Defining the PTSD service dog intervention: perceived importance, usage, and symptom specificity of psychiatric service dogs for military veterans. Frontiers in psychology, 1638. Link

McCall, C. E., Rodriguez, K. E., MacDermid Wadsworth, S. M., Meis, L. A., & O’Haire, M. E. (2020). “A Part of Our Family”? Effects of Psychiatric Service Dogs on Quality of Life and Relationship Functioning in Military-Connected Couples. Military behavioral health, 8(4), 410-423. Link