Whitney is a black lab who is currently in advanced training with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

A study underway at the VA looks to see if assistance-trained dogs can help veterans with PTSD

It’s already common knowledge that dogs can help people work through emotional problems, and even some physical like lowering blood pressure. But for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a pet dog may not be enough help.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is running a research study to discover exactly if assistance-trained service dogs could help mitigate the symptoms of PTSD in veterans. The VA already states that pet dogs can help veterans with PTSD by:

  • Bringing out feelings of love.
  • Being good companions.
  • Taking orders well when trained (this can be very comfortable for a service member or veteran who was used to giving orders in the military).
  • Reducing stress.
  • Providing a reason to get out of the house, spend time outdoors, and meet new people.


Although these benefits help, there may be more a dog can do. The purpose of the research is to find out how much training may help veterans with SCI. Half of the dogs in the study will be raised as assistance dogs, learning several commands as well as being trained to be out in public regularly. They will learn to always stay in front or behind their owner in order to give the veteran more personal space, especially in a public setting; search the house, especially in the dark, and bark if there is an intruder; along with other potentially useful commands and tasks.

The other half of the dogs will simply be pet dogs used for love and companionship, but will not have the clearance to go everywhere with the veteran as the assistance-trained dogs will. The study will look to see if having the service dog over a pet dog will more effectively help veterans recover from PTSD.

Because this study may take years to complete, there are currently no results. However, if you feel like a dog would help you with your PTSD, talk to your doctor about getting a pet or emotional support dog.

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