Therapy Dogs Aid Soldiers during Counseling

Staff Sgt. Dennis Swols was not one to believe in counseling sessions after serving 7 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Swols suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that is so severe, he experiences seizures, according to Steve Osunsami of ABC News, Swols tells Osunami that “even his kids knew not to sneak up on him from behind.”

Swols opinions changed drastically after he met Lexy, the 5-year old German Shepherd. Lexy was able to get through to Swols and really let him open up. Osunsami says, the dog “lies next to him during sessions and pulls closer when...Swols is stressed.”

According to ABC News there are now 2,500 dogs trained in the armed services; however, Lexy is making history as she and other dogs at the Warrior Canine Connection in Brookville, Maryland, are the first to help heal soldiers therapeutically. “It can comfort them [the soldiers.] Get them through the hard stuff,” explains psychiatrist Maj. Christine Rumayor, “So they can keep talking and work through their issues.”

Swols admits that Lexy has brought about powerful change for him. “I could tell a story. I could cry. I could do anything and she’s not going to judge me” (ABC News). The bond they share is truly a special one.

Therapy dog trainer, Rick Yount, begins training these dogs when they’re very young and over time they learn to sense when a soldier is anxious or distressed. “We know that emotions have a chemical component to them,” Yount told Osunsami, “These dogs are basically able to detect through scent, your emotional state.”

Does your dog have the disposition of a therapy dog? Click here to find out>

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

How to get a service dog

If you’re ready to find your new companion, start with these steps:

  1. Determine your eligibility. While exceptions exist, typically you must meet a threshold for certain medical conditions and the severity of those conditions in order to qualify for a service dog. Your condition may also determine the breed of dog you should look for. If you have questions, speak with your doctor.
  2. Find a program. There are many programs that match people with service dogs, and most specialize in certain medical conditions or needs. The programs listed on this page are a good place to start it’s always best to compare a few different providers. You may also choose to put your own dog through training, but this may be more time-consuming and expensive.
  3. Gather supplies. Before your service dog comes home, you’ll want to prepare your living space with dog food, toys and other pet supplies. You may also wish to get service dog certification. This certificate is optional, but you may choose to carry it in public and show it to inquirers instead of explaining your condition.

What Kind Of Dog Is Needed?

We thought it’d be fun to “quiz” you to see if you can distinguish which type of dog is appropriate for various scenarios. Test your knowledge below.

Q: What kind of dog helps a person when they need assistance with a disability while flying?
A: Service dog

Q: What kind of dog is needed at school to help children experiencing anxiety?
A: Therapy dog

Q: What kind of dog is needed to pull a wheelchair?
A: Service dog

Q: What kind of dog offers companionship in day-to-day activities for one person?
A: Emotional support dog

Q: What kind of dog is needed to protect someone who is having a seizure?
A: Service dog

Q: What kind of dog is needed to remind a person with mental illness to take their prescription?
A: Service dog

Q: What dog helps a person with autism?
A: Service dog

Q: What kind of dog works with numerous people?
A: Therapy dog

Q: What kind of dog calms a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
A: Service dog

What do you feel best defines the different characteristics of each type of dog?

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Who Could Benefit from Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Healthcare and mental health professionals are still exploring different ways that animal-assisted therapy can be used effectively, but some of the populations who currently benefit from it include:

College students

College is stressful and so is adjusting to a completely new environment. Therapy animals can bring a smile and sense of calmness to students dealing with stress, anxiety and loneliness.

Therapy animals are great at comforting children before and after they receive immunizations, or sitting with them while they wait at the dentist’s office.

Cancer patients

A therapy dog may help lift the spirits of cancer patients during long hours of chemotherapy.

Animal-assisted therapy, emotional assistance animals and service animals are all commonly used to help support veterans, especially those who have been injured and/or are living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Loneliness and depression are common among older people and therapy animals can help mitigate these feelings.

Individuals with high blood pressure

Studies have shown that time spent with animals can lower cortisol levels and increase endorphins, both of which help lower high blood pressure.

Emergency Room visitors

Individuals who are at the ER with non-life-threatening injuries may feel a little more relaxed after a therapy animal visit.

Therapy patients

Therapy patients who are traumatized or hesitant to talk about past experiences may find it easier to communicate and express themselves when therapy sessions are combined with animal-assisted therapy.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stress-related disorder that affects 6.8% of individuals at some point in their lives [5]. PTSD can develop from exposure to a variety of psychologically traumatic events such as experiencing sexual abuse or assault, a life threatening event or natural disaster, or unexpected death or harm to a loved one [1].

Military personnel who are exposed to combat violence are strongly at risk for developing PTSD. In fact, the recognition of the disorder by modern psychiatry in 1980 was largely brought about as result of the mental health experiences of veterans returning from the Korean and Vietnam Wars [2]. Today, it is estimated that 23% of veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are impacted by PTSD [4].

PTSD is a particularly difficult disorder to treat in military personnel. While empirically supported treatments work for many people, some can have significant dropout and nonresponse rates [3, 8]. Additionally, few treatments incorporate the family members and/or spouses, who often suffer from their own psychological distress, secondary trauma, and caregiver burden. Therefore, it is imperative to discover and, most importantly, to evaluate complementary and integrative treatments for PTSD that encourage retention and have family-wide effects.

Watch the video: Meet the courtroom dogs who help child crime victims tell their stories

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