Coping With PTSD With A Canine Companion

I bet you have seen a seeing-eye dog before. I remember the first time I saw one in a supermarket and tried to run up to pat him. Because, hello! A DOG was in the grocery store with us, Mom! I quickly got schooled on what a service dog was and that they were not to be treated like other dogs. They are special.

There are a few different canine companions that are helpful with those who have PTSD or other mental illnesses. There are service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. We will mainly focus on emotional support and therapy dogs.

PTSD companion dog

More and more in the news, we are hearing about people living their lives with PTSD. While the majority of it is centered on veterans, there are others who suffer from PTSD. Getting a companion dog that is trained specifically for PTSD sufferers is beneficial in reintegrating these individuals back into a somewhat normal life. Let’s figure out the ins and outs of PTSD and how our furry friends can help.

PTSD: An Overview

PTSD is an acronym for post-traumatic stress disorder. This is most commonly associated with veterans, but can affect an array of people. defines PTSD as: “Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”

Now, I’m a huge dog lover. I think people can enjoy dogs in many ways. However, those suffering from PTSD can benefit from their companionship. Let’s see who is a good candidate for a canine companion.

Who Can Benefit from a Canine Companion?

Most people associate a service dog or canine companion with those with physical abilities. I agree, this is an excellent way to get help in your everyday life! It’s one of the many things I love about dogs. However, the emotional benefit is something that I think has been seriously downplayed.

Beyond physical disabilities, those with emotional and behavioral disorders can enjoy a canine companion. There are dogs specifically trained for more severe disorders, but even having a dog has been shown to benefit those with emotional and behavioral disorders.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

Between knowing pressure points, sensing increased anxiety, and more, these canine companions can ease so much stress in people’s lives. A big issue with any kind of mental illness is alleviating stress. Stress can exponentially increase symptoms and exacerbate the illness.

What can a therapy or canine companion do for someone with PTSD? Let’s look at the different approaches and benefits below from a 2009 study.

  • Providing empathetic, therapeutic responses: “In sensing their owners’ depression or other symptoms, pets could make their owners feel that someone empathized
  • With their struggles. In fact, sometimes, pets were described as therapeutic,” the study states.
  • Helping owners connect with other people, redeveloping necessary social support.
  • Providing an expanded sense of family.
  • A bolstered sense of self, including self-sufficiency and feelings of empowerment: “Pets provided a way in which patients could exercise control, feel that they mattered, and could make a difference in the life of another living thing.”

Life with PTSD and a Canine Companion

So, what does life look like with a canine companion or therapy dog? Well, it’s a little different for everyone. However, most recipients of this type of dog see a significant improvement in their day-to-day life.

Having someone to greet you with exuberant happiness in the morning is a great way to feel motivated to get out of bed. Even more so is the sense of responsibility to get your new furry friend their breakfast and take them outside. Sometimes, those with mental illnesses can struggle with even getting out of bed or their house. This is a great way to get over that barricade on a daily basis. I think the responsibility of having a dog to take care of really helps keep a person motivated to move forward every day.

The other major component that helps the day-to-day life change is the dog’s ability to sense when you need empathy. The simple action of placing their head on your lap instantly increases dopamine levels and makes a person feel loved and wanted.

Super Dogs to the Rescue (Again!)

There are countless reasons to own a dog. I mean, I could go on for days about it, really. However, owning a dog to help ease some emotional pain and mental illness takes the cake. I have always thought dogs were incredible. Their ability to sense distress in humans blows me away.

Dogs are the real super heros out there. They don’t discriminate. They don’t judge. They are just there for you. Day after day, they wake up and seek you out with a wagging tail. If that’s not devotion and a reason to help you get out of bed every day, I’m not sure what is.