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How Can Service Dogs Help Individuals with TBI and PTSD?

How Can Service Dogs Help Individuals with TBI and PTSD?

Comments [9]


How can service dogs help individuals with TBI and PTSD?

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[Dr. Kristen Maisano] What a service dog can do for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or mild traumatic brain injury is they can help with the physical— I'm sorry—the psychological symptoms that somebody is experiencing. So if we took something like getting nervous on a Metro or having a hard time going through a grocery store— the grocery store is not easy for someone who has been in a deployed situation because it's a confined environment and there are paths that you need to follow, so a person can track where you're going. And then what many service members call "the fatal funnel," which is a doorway, so you want to stay out of the fatal funnel. And when we think about the cash register at a grocery store, everybody needs to funnel in there, right? Everybody needs to get out. And if an enemy knows that they need to get you and you're going to need to go through that cashier, then waiting in line and paying and packing your groceries can be a source of anxiety and a source of hypervigilance for someone. Now if they had a service animal to kind of ground them, to bring them back to where they are now, to give support when needed and they have something to focus on—a service animal that they need to take care of. The service animal can be right with them, and they do a variety of different things. They might provide pressure to somebody's leg. They might just be there as an element of something to focus on. It's very interesting— different organizations do different things with psychological health dogs— anywhere from some people train dogs as sleep companions— what a sleep companion dog would do is provide some pressure while the person is sleeping, so I almost liken it to swaddling a baby or the great feeling you get when you snuggle under a huge heavy blanket and you feel safe. It kind of grounds somebody and says, "I'm in America. I'm in Washington, D.C. I'm safe—everything is okay." Psychological health dogs can also help with other types of outings as far as just gaining confidence to get where you need to go, knowing that he or she is there with you and you are with them and you guys are battle buddies so to speak and you're going to get through things together.

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Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.

Kristen Maisano, OTDKristen Maisano, OTD is an occupational therapist and the interim director of Rehabilitation Services for the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. She specializes in evaluating and treating military patients with traumatic brain injuries.

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Comments [9]

As a person with severe PTSD and a severe TBI I agree with everything she said except she implied Services Dogs for only mild TBI. Well I have a severe TBI and do just fine with my service dog and as a PTSD Service Dog Advocate I often tell people that want a service dog that all they need to do is find a loving free or low cost puppy or adult and teach it and grow with it. If you have PTSD all the ADA Act requires of a PTSD Service Dog is that it comforts you during anxiety and no special certification other than proof of PTS. According to the ADA it is improper for anyone to ask you for that certification or to ask you what your service animal does for you. Please anyone that reads this write congress and ask them to add cats as TBI and PTSD Service Animal too.

Jan 8th, 2017 11:12pm is a website you can look up service dog organizations by state and by disability. All the organizations on the website do not charge veterans to get a service dog. We also have to follow a minimum standard of practice.

Sandra - Paws for Purple Hearts

Dec 2nd, 2016 11:27am

very well written

Nov 9th, 2016 1:33am

Where do I look to get a dog? I have a son with TBI from a car accident?

Jul 28th, 2015 10:43pm

How would I find a service dog?

Jul 19th, 2015 11:04am

I'm very grateful for my service dog. I couldn't handle crowded place or most people before I had him. So my service dog definitely improved my quality of life. Combat does bad things to your ability to handle civilian life. If you suffer from PTSD or TBI you should have one, it will certainly improve your life.

Mar 14th, 2015 6:24pm

The problem is when an individual or organization claims a dog is a Service Dog, when it is not. Please make sure you know the law, both State and Federal. Know that portraying your dog as a Service Dog when it is not, is a crime and is punishable, under the law. Please understand, a Emotional Support Dog is NOT a Service Dog and does not have the same rights of a Service Dog.

Feb 12th, 2015 12:04pm

Service dogs can be trained to do many other specific tasks that can be very useful for veterans with TBI and PTSD. Service dogs can be trained to silently alert the handler to the presence of strangers, usually with a head nudge or similar slight movement. This can help reduce hyper-vigilance and also help the handler distinguish between perceived movements, sounds, and other sensations that are real and those that are flashbacks or artifacts of brain damage. Service dogs can be trained to recognize the initial signs of an impending anxiety attack or dissociative episode and interrupt it or help the handler get to a safe place. Many people with traumatic brain injuries have dizziness, vertigo, and balance problems, problems with visual perception and processing, or problems with memory and attention, and service dogs can be trained to balance and brace them to prevent falls, alert them to the presence of trip or slip hazards, help them with tasks like finding their vehicle in a crowded parking lot, recognizing familiar people in an unfamiliar context, or reminding them to take daily medications. Service dogs can be trained to enter the home of the handler with PTSD, activate the lights, and verify that the area is "clear" before the handler enters. This is just a small sampling of the kinds of specific tasks that can be trained to help handlers with TBI and/or PTSD ameliorate the disabling aspects of their conditions.

Service dog tasks for handlers with TBI and/or PTSD should be individualized based on the particular needs of the handler, and the team should be trained after careful analysis of the handler's specific needs and lifestyle.

Dec 30th, 2014 11:07pm

Absolutely! Service dogs provide a great level of security and companionship. A loyal dog makes me feel safer than any gun ever would. 

Dec 12th, 2013 2:10am


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