Veterans participating in a therapeutic dog ownership and training program experienced significant decreases in stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms, less isolation and self-judgment and improvements in self-compassion, according to longitudinal study findings.
“Animal assisted interventions are one of the promising nonclinical strategies for veterans with PTSD,” Dessa Bergen-Cico, PhD, from the department of public health at Syracuse University, and colleagues wrote in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. “Research on [animal assisted interventions] has been limited by small sample sizes and lack of control groups, thus empirical studies with larger sample sizes are needed.”
Researchers examined the impact of the Dogs2Vets program, a therapeutic dog ownership and training program for veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, in a quasi-experimental, longitudinal control study. The investigators measured outcomes on the PTSD Checklist, Military Version (PCL-M), perceived stress scale, self-compassion scale composite and self-compassion scale subscales for isolation and self-judgment from baseline to 12-month follow-up.
Forty-eight participants, who were enrolled in the program or placed in the wait list control group, completed baseline and 12-month follow-up assessments. Dogs2Vets engages veterans in caring for a dog that they later adopt and teaches dog behavioral management and training skills, focusing on the healing aspects of the human-animal bond. After selecting a dog, the veteran/dog teams trained under the guidance of a professional trainer in 90-minute weekly dog training sessions for 12 to 18 months.
The results showed that veterans in the Dogs2Vets owner-trainer program experienced reductions in symptoms of post-traumatic stress (P = .03), perceived stress (P = .02), isolation (P = .02), and self-judgment (P = .01), as well as increases in self-compassion (P = .02) at 12-month follow-up. However, there were no significant improvements in these measures among participants allocated to the wait list control group.
Veterans participating in a therapeutic dog ownership and training program experienced significant decreases in stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms, study findings. showed.
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In addition, qualitative analysis of the veterans’ open-ended comments regarding their experience with the Dogs2Vets program revealed five thematic types of benefits:
- reduced isolation (47%);
- better mental health and emotional well-being (44%);
- renewed sense of purpose (35%);
- PTSD symptom management (12%); and
- boosted physical activity (6%).
“The findings from the present study contribute to the field of research on complementary therapies for veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress by providing insight into the positive impact dog ownership and training has on self-compassion and self-judgment, which are understood to be beneficial for treating chronic PTSD symptoms,” Bergen-Cico and colleagues wrote. “Future research can build upon the findings of the present study with more advanced methods to examine the mechanisms of transformation and temporal order of changes in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, self-compassion, and its subscale facets of self-judgment and isolation.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.