Do Dogs Help Ease Vets' PTSD Or Are Anecdotes Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

Jun 12, 2017

Previous research has relied more on stories from veterans and less on rigorous science.
Credit courtesy Purdue Center for the Human-Animal Bond

Purdue University researchers are preparing to embark on a study showing whether dogs help ease the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers.

Previous research has relied mostly on anecdotal evidence showing pets calm their humans and make them happier.

But Purdue human-animal interaction professor Maggie O’Haire says her team will take a number of extra steps, including measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol and getting in touch with participants at times they won’t expect.

“Normally, when someone answers a survey, we might ask them ‘over the past month, how often have you done this?' But in this study, we’re actually going to page people on their phones randomly throughout the day and find out where they are, who they’re with, what they’re doing and how they’re doing, so we have that level of validity of in-the-moment experiences,” she says.

O’Haire says 100 veterans and 50 dogs will take part in the study.

The dogs will also be monitored, in part to see how well they match the behavior and sleep patterns of their owners.

O’Haire concedes there is some danger to the dogs, especially considering the abnormally high rate of suicide and violent behavior among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.

Her team hopes to learn whether certain kinds of interactions with the dogs – such as regularly using commands the canines are taught before they go live with the servicemembers – has an effect on the humans’ well-being.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates between 10 percent and 20 percent of all veterans of the Iraq, Gulf and Vietnam Wars have suffered from PTSD.