As many as 20 percent of soldiers deployed to combat zones during the recent wars with Iraq and Afghanistan may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, according to research published in the April 2015 issue of The Military Psychologist. When these soldiers return home, they might have problems with space, crowds, darkness and much more. Several ways for veterans to overcome PTSD include therapy, emotional reconnection, physical exercise, and intriguingly enough, service dog registration.

Service Dogs and Veterans

Service dogs are nothing new to many veterans; for example, veterans that return with a physical disability often navigate the world better with the help of a service dog. The story with PTSD is a bit different and newer since PTSD is not as physically visible an issue as, say, an amputated limb. There is no doubt, though, that many veterans say that service dogs helped them. Here’s how:

Emotional Reconnection

Part of the effects of PTSD for many people is an emotional numbness. The good news is that a veteran does not even need a long-term service dog to experience emotional reconnection; the process of training a service dog for veterans with physical disabilities can take six weeks, and it paves the way for veterans with PTSD to get back in tune with their feelings. They must reward the dogs, for example, communicate with them and praise them. It is a form of risk-free social engagement because the dogs never judge, and we at the United States Service Dog Registry can attest to the fact that they are very cute. (Who can resist these big eyes?)

We have seen similar emotional reconnection efforts in prison populations. Part of the reason is that this bonding increases the hormone oxytocin, in turn boosting trust, social connectedness and the ability to interpret social cues.


Dogs are good for exercise, whether it is running, walking or something else entirely. Service dogs help coax veterans with PTSD back into the great outdoors. Even a “simple” overnight camping trip can be a godsend in helping a veteran pave the way to better emotional and mental health.


Veterans with PTSD often live in fear. They may become paranoid that intruders are in their house, for example. Service dogs can be trained to sweep their homes to detect unsafe situations—checking doors, windows and more. They also give their humans a sense of security because the dogs block out the space around a person to prevent people, no matter if they have good or bad intentions, from making surprise approaches. And at night or at nap time, a veteran is able to sleep much better knowing that his or her faithful companion is on the job.

Here are a few other things service dogs can be trained to do:
• Remind a veteran to take medication.

• Alert a veteran that someone is approaching.

• Wake up a veteran who is in the throes of a nightmare (for example, by turning on the bedroom lights).

Positive Effects

The anecdotal reports from veterans are inspiring. Many report being able to engage in meaningful life tasks again, and their dependence on medication lessens. For quite a few veterans, having a service dog is a more friendly treatment approach than something such as cognitive processing therapy (CPT) or prolonged exposure (PE). The Department of Veterans Affairs is in its first year of a three-year trial to more objectively measure the effect service dogs have on veterans with PTSD; unfortunately, much of the evidence so far is only anecdotal.

Veterans and their families hope that when the abilities of service dogs are finally recognized, the government will provide financial assistance for veterans with PTSD to get service dogs. And at the US Registry for Service Dogs, you can easily register your service dog, emotional support dog or therapy dog.