Benefits of Service Dogs for Veterans

June 5, 2024
Sitting German shepherd service dog with kneeling man in military uniform

Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine have taken a step toward better understanding the relationship between veterans and service dogs, which they believe could lead to life-changing improvements in health care for veterans. Lead study author is Sarah Leighton, a graduate student studying psychology and a member of the Organization for Human-Animal Interaction Research and Education (OHAIRE) research group in the College of Veterinary Medicine. She points out that the lack of data on service dogs as medical care has created challenges for veterans seeking treatment.

Headshot - Sarah Leighton

To find out whether working with a service dog can impact medical outcomes, Leighton and her colleagues recruited 81 participants in a new study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. This group of participants were partnered with service dogs at no cost  through national nonprofit, K9s For Warriors. The veterans filled out a PTSD Checklist and were also assessed against the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (also known as CAPS-5) by medical professionals with no knowledge of the experiment conditions. Their wellness based on these assessments was measured at the start of the study and after three months.

Researchers found that veterans who worked with service dogs experienced significantly lower self-reported and clinician-rated PTSD symptom severity, lower anxiety and depression, a significantly higher quality of life, and fewer feelings of isolation. Veterans working with service dogs also had 66% lower odds of receiving a PTSD diagnosis from a mental health professional after three months with a dog.

For more on the study, the lab and researchers, and general information on benefits and challenges of veteran and service dog relationships:

Read the full UA News article

Updated: 06/05/24