Any dog lover can tell you how much their dog lifts their spirits and provides emotional support. Research even shows that having a dog can increase your happiness. But, new research is starting to show that training a dog using positive reinforcement is just as beneficial for the 2-leggeds doing the training as the 4-leggeds receiving it.
The pilot program Paws for Purple Hearts, veterans helping veterans, was created in 2008 at the VA in Palo Alto, California. PPH helps returning Veterans heal by teaching those with psychological scars, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to train service dogs for other vets with combat-related injuries.
While Paws for Purple Hearts is touted as “veterans helping veterans,” the connecting thread is the canine helper — eager-to-please retrievers who lessen anxiety and depression in PTSD patients as they learn to become service-dog companions.
“Psychiatrists are using the dogs at the VA in Palo Alto to help the veterans do what drugs and traditional therapy can’t always do as quickly.” Dr. Michael Jaffe, Psychiatrist-PTSD Therapist, says, “If someone is getting down on themselves, and they give a command to a dog and the dog does it, positive reinforcement comes and gives you a big hug and a lick instantly.”
As a huge supporter of humane, science-based, positive-reinforcement dog training, I can see how positive reinforcement would return so quickly to the other end of the leash. Patience and positive reinforcement are so crucial to successful dog training, and they are also the greatest obstacles PTSD veterans need to overcome.
Veteran – US Army, David Jamieson, no longer sits in an apartment alone all day and rides an emotional roller coaster. He has become a professional dog trainer, and his mission is to train service dogs for other Veterans with physical needs that a dog can help.
After watching six Veterans take their own lives, Chris Hill, Veteran – US Marines, washed out of his first PTSD therapy. But, he has finally found something that could help him cope with his anger, sleeplessness and isolation. It just happened to walk in the door with four legs and fur.
What do you think of dogs replacing drugs in helping Veterans with PTSD? Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a comment below.
Center Photo: Courtesy of Freedom Dogs
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