Dogs can be trained as service dogs or provide emotional support as therapy dogs.  The main difference between these two breeds of dogs are the kind of assistance they provide to their owners, and what kind of rights they will have in public.  According to the ADA, a service dog is one that has been trained to help someone with an emotional or physical disability that impacts one or more major life activities.  If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, you and your certifiably trained service dog ( the list now includes many other animals) may be protected under this act. Emotinally supportive therapy dogs, although life-changing companions, are usually not protected by the ADA, because they haven't been formally traned to assist in aiding you in your daily tasks, such as taking medication or overcoming anxiety issues.  Whatever education your dog receives, there are several important functions she will perform to help ensure your wellbeing.

Service dogs must have a primary focus on their owner.  Although the bond between dog and human is strong and loving, the dog is still on the clock full-time to be alert to cues that indicate her owner is in danger.  Even in a social setting where there may be a lot of distractions, the dog must be able to drop everything should her owner suddenly find himself in the midst of a panic attack.

Dogs can be trained to provide a sense of security to war veterans with specific anxieties.  Some physically and emotinally wounded warriors fear walking down the street or even shopping for groceries, because their PTSD is triggered by not knowing what may be hiding around the next block or supermarket aisle.  Dogs are trained to be a protective set of eyes for their owner, so they can confirm there is no danger around the bend and prevent an anxiety attack.

Dogs are trained to watch over you around the clock.  One of the most troubling effects of PTSD may be the tendency for having nightmares or issues falling asleep.  But PTSD service dogs' duties to your wellbeing don't set with the sun.  They are trained to wake you from nightmares by being alert to night terror indicators. Many people living with PTSD also report that the very presence of their dog in their room at night brings them the comfort they need to fall asleep.

Dogs are naturally loyal an obedient to their owners, and the very act of giving your dog a command can be helpful in transitioning from life in the field to returning home.  PTSD service dogs are trained to obey specific commands, but can also be taught additional tricks and obedience orders by owners.

Therapy dogs are trained to calm someone who is having and anxiety or panic attack.  Dogs can ensure that their partners are taking medications. A dog is trained to alert her owner to sounds that may go unnoticed in the event of a panic attack. Therapy dogs can also help prevent future issues like substance abuse.  They give PTSD sufferers the confidence to live their lives more independently.

Here are resources for finding a Service Dog:

  • Service Dogs for America
  • Paws for Veterans
  • Dog Wish
  • New Horizons Service Dogs