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Four-legged Friends Help Heal Invisible Wounds

Yolanda R. Arrington  |  Health.mil 

November 20, 2013

Anyone who has ever welcomed a pet into their home and heart can attest to the bonds this friendship can create. Research has long shown that companion animals – specifically dogs – help reduce blood pressure and ease stress. Military researchers aim to uncover the scientific reasons for human-to-dog connections, particularly as they apply to wounded warriors.

 

Dr. Patricia Deuster, a Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences professor, said some sort of biological marker is released upon contact with a dog that helps soothe or relieve the mind. “We all have a sense that it really works, but to bring something into mainstream practice, you have to have a scientific base. We’re trying to establish that base.” The university has received funding from the Department of Defense to look at the mechanisms by which pets help relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other invisible wounds.

 

The university team is partnering with a nonprofit organization called Warrior Canine Connection to research the effects of having a wounded warrior train a dog to become a service animal for another veteran. This practice dates back to 2008 but only now does DOD plan to closely study it. Deuster said it is a form of therapy for the service members. “If a wounded service member learns to train a dog, it gives them purpose in life because they are training the dog to help their buddy. They get unconditional love from the dog. They also have to go out and socialize the dog. They learn to be more optimistic, nurturing and how to control their anger.”

 

Warrior Canine Connection executive director Rick Yount said that service members with PTSD or mild traumatic brain injuries benefit greatly from working with service dogs. It can take two years and as many as 50 service members to train one dog. During that process, the veterans learn to become more patient, handle stressful situations better, interact with the public and shower praise upon the dog. Some even take the dogs home and, as a result, their sleeping patterns improve. One Marine credits the dog training methods with saving his marriage because it taught him to be a more patient parent and connect with his family, Yount said. “We are using the dog to teach [the veteran] that the world is a safe place.”

 

Deuster said the results of this study could greatly impact the way military doctors treat invisible wounds. “If we find out that people with PTSD can get better by training with service dogs, we’ll likely have more long-term programs instead of drug prescriptions.” That research should begin in 2014 and will take three years.

 

Read more at Health.mil

Abled Public Service Ad for Warrior Canine Connection where service members and Veterans with combat stress take on the critical mission of training service dogs for fellow Wounded Warriors. Click here to go to their website.

 

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Abled Public Service Ad - US Department of Veterans Affairs -Veterans-Health-Administration Guide and Service Dogs shows a photo of a guide dog in a harness and a service dog unloading clothing from a dryer.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for Wounded Warrior Project Shows a veteran with his arm around the shoulder of a young woman. It appears that he suffered facial injuries and finger amputations. He is smiling, wearing a yellow cap and red T-shirt. The Wounded Warrior project logo shows the silhouette of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade on his back next to a box containing the words 10 years. The headline text reads A Decade of Service - A Lifetime of Commitment. Give the gift of hope to an injured veteran. Click here to go to the Wounded Warrior Project website.

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