Playtime is especially important for dogs, just as it is for humans because it is a time of bonding, enrichment, relaxation, and there is no pressure. We have certain games that are good games and others that are not appropriate for service dogs.
Playtime Activities to Never Do with Your Service Dog
We never play tug of war with our service dogs. Instead, we always teach them to drop an item in our hand. Playing tug of war would be very counterproductive. We also don’t wrestle with the dog; some people like to get rough, wrestle, roll, and tumble which is also opposite of their training and inappropriate for many reasons.
We never want them to have that kind of contact with a disabled individual or jump on them at an inappropriate time because in a dog’s mind, if it’s okay sometimes, it should be okay all the time. We must be consistent in our behaviors and actions around our dogs.
Safe Exercises for Your Service Dog
A game enjoyed by many dogs is chasing a ball. When playing fetch, you want to make sure they bring it back to hand. When you play ball with your dog, never throw it up in the air. While they are tremendous athletes, and they love to play, they can suffer damage just like a football, basketball, or a pole vault player. When they jump up in the air and down again, they put high impact on their joints. They can tear a ligament or muscle just like an athlete.
Even if you don’t see an injury earlier in life, these are things that could cause complications later in the service dog’s geriatric life. So, throw the ball out straight, not up in the air. This way the dog can chase out directly for it instead reducing the chance of injury.
If your service dog doesn’t bring the ball back, then there are other lessons that need to go into the rules of that game. It’s just like playing any other kind of game. For example, if you’re playing Monopoly, there are certain rules. You roll the dice, there are so many spaces you can go to when you can collect, not collect, etc. So, just like there are rules to that type of a game, what you need to do is teach your dog the rules of our games.
For service dogs, we start very young because we turn these games into tasks later in life. Therefore, they enjoy their tasks. They think their tasks are a lot of fun because these are the games, we played to set their foundation.
If your dog doesn’t enjoy playing ball, then go for walks or practice their obedience training. Even though they might be stellar at doing all their basic obedience this is a wonderful time for bonding and great positive reinforcement with treats. Practice their sit, stay, down, recall and heeling while making sure it’s all a positive experience.
Every time they do something right, reward them right away. Dog’s think within the moment, so you need to capture behaviors by being quick with the reward.
If you want to get creative, you could set up little obstacle courses in your backyard, with different things for them to learn to do, like wobble tables and teeter-totters. You can also set up hay bales at different heights or set up tires for jumping through. There are a lot of different ways you can be creative. Just be sure that you don’t make anything dangerous. You would never want exercises that would risk their health or well-being by causing an injury.
Pay Attention to the Weather When Playing Outside with Your Service Dog
Recipients and dog owners need to be very cognizant of the temperature outside. Many dogs are very high energy with a lot of drive. They will continue to play ball until they drop over with a heat stroke. Dogs get hot much quicker than people; it’s harder for them to cool themselves. If it’s hot out, you need to play early in the day or late in the day and limit the activities. Even if the dog still wants to play, you might need to stop sooner for the dog’s well-being.
The same thing goes if it’s cold or freezing outside. You want to make sure their feet are protected since dogs can get frostbite just like people. Always be aware. Never walk them on hot pavement or blacktop. We’ve seen dogs with horrible burns on the bottom of their feet, and they can’t walk for days.
Also, if your dog is normally on grass and you’re going someplace to throw the ball, like a parking lot or a tennis court, it’s important to keep in mind that it can take all the protective layers off the pads of their feet. With this type of injury, they will be lame for days, and they will have bloody sores on the pads of their feet, which causes them serious pain to walk. Always be sure their feet are protected in these situations.
Have Additional Questions About Playtime for Your Service Dog? Contact us Today at MedicalServiceDogs.org!
Many people do not realize the difference between visible and invisible disabilities. As human beings, we are visual creatures. When we see someone walking with a cane, in a wheelchair, or with braces on their legs, we immediately realize that this person has a disability, and we can put that in terms that our mind understands. What we don’t see is the cashier ringing up your groceries who may have a very serious diabetic imbalance – a brittle diabetic that could suddenly collapse or become incoherent because you don’t see diabetes externally until something happens. (more…)
Jonathan Conover, MSW, LCSWA, is an Army Veteran who served for eleven years, with one deployment to Iraq and three to Afghanistan. He is now a Licensed Clinical Social Worker employed as an independently contracted outpatient therapist. (more…)
In honor of Administrative Professionals Week last week, Guardian Angels would like to feature Gwyneth Hiesinger, who works in the organization’s finance department. She assists the organization with a variety of tasks, such as tracking donations and the money that goes out of the organization. Gwyneth recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs in February. (more…)
Keeping your service dog healthy is crucial to ensure they can perform their job and lead a long, healthy, happy life. At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we keep our dogs as healthy as possible and teach our recipients to do the same. We’ve put together our top tips for keeping your service dog healthy and happy.
Keep Them at a Healthy Weight
Overweight dogs are a major issue in the U.S. When your dog is overweight, they are at a higher risk for conditions such as heart issues and cancer, while also putting extra stress on their joints which can lead to arthritis and other mobility complications.
To check if your service dog is at a healthy weight, he/she should have a visible waistline. When you touch your dog’s ribs, you should be able to feel their ribs rather than a layer of fat. If you are unable to feel their ribs, your dog is probably overweight. Another way to check is to look down over their back and look for an indentation between the hips and ribs – their waistline. If you see that this area goes straight back with no indent or if it balloons out, your dog is overweight. Be sure you are feeding them the correct portions for their activity level and avoid overfeeding them treats. Dog food labels give feeding instructions that ensure the dog never starves, however, the dog’s activity level must be taken into consideration making the label suggestions inappropriate in most cases.
Feed Them a Scientific vs Cost Formulation Dog Food
When it comes to dog food, there’s something called a cost formulation and a scientific formulation. The less expensive dog foods typically fall under
the cost formulation. All they are required to do is meet the percentage analysis that you see on the labeling; it doesn’t specify where those products come from that make up that analysis. Sadly, they could be using shoe leather and feathers to meet those criteria. Yikes, this is definitely not what we want to feed our dogs to maximize their health and nutrition! This is why we always recommend a scientific formulation. These companies guarantee their sources of ingredients that make up the analysis. The cheaper foods do not guarantee you what these sources are because they are buying whatever is the cheapest. With a scientific formulation of dog food, you are getting a higher quality ingredient.
With so many dog foods on the market, it’s really important to do your homework. Our veterinarian, Dr. Rogers, and our founder, Carol Borden, have done a great deal of research on diets because we absolutely want to give our dogs the finest foundation possible at an affordable price for our recipients.
What was particularly important to Carol was not only the type of product that was being sourced to meet those percentages, but where it was being sourced from. We know that many of the dog treats coming from China have killed a lot of dogs in our country. We know that some of the raw hides and chew toys are cured in formaldehyde. We would never give our dogs anything like that.
When Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs did all the research as to what dog food we should feed our dogs, we ended up choosing a dog food that was predominantly sourced in the U.S. with ingredients that are grown here on farms in the U.S. In addition, there are a few ingredients that are sourced from safe places, such as salmon from Norway or lamb from New Zealand.
In your research, you will see that there is a lot of concern for heavy metals and naturally occurring toxins in dog foods. Unfortunately, over 50% of dogs in the U.S. die of cancer each year. We have to question if that may be caused in part by a dog’s diet.
Do Not Feed Your Service Dog People Food
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we do not feed our service dogs people food at all. Our service dogs have public access rights which means they can go into food venues such as restaurants and grocery stores. We never want them to be begging for human food or being “hoovers” on the floor at a restaurant. Another reason is not all people food is good for dogs. If you give an overabundance of people food, it can upset the balance of what they should be receiving in their diet. It also adds to the dog’s risk of obesity, and could even cause a GI upset with diarrhea.
Take Care of Your Dog’s Dental Health
Dental health care is important for your dog. If your service dog doesn’t like to chew on bones such as Nyla bones, which help clean the teeth, you will need to get a toothbrush or dental wipes so you can help keep their teeth clean. There are a variety of dog-specific dental products on the market that you can use and get your dog used to. This is far better and less expensive than having to put your dog under anesthesia to have a dental cleaning.
Ensure Your Service Dog Gets Regular Exercise
Another great way to keep your service dog at a healthy weight is to make sure they are getting regular exercise and mental enrichment. Activities you can do with your dog include playing catch, taking a walk, practice your obedience drills, and more!
We recommend that you avoid throwing the ball or toy up in the air to prevent injuries such as a tear to the CCL (the same as the ACL in a human). You also do not want to encourage your dog to lunge for a treat or toy either. Bigger dogs playing this way could even result in you getting knocked over and injured.
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we build confidence courses that include platforms, steps, tunnels, sway bridges, wobble tables, and tires. These courses should be built only a foot or two off the ground to prevent accidents. Dogs should be introduced to confidence courses slowly and with positive reinforcement to ensure they find their comfort zone.
Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits
Be sure to take your service dog to the veterinarian for their annual checkup to get their vaccines along with stool sample testing, and an overall wellness check. Once your dog reaches about seven years of age, you should start adding a geriatric profile to their annual wellness exams so you know what’s going on within your dog. This is an excellent way to stay ahead of a potential problem that could be addressed early. These annual visits will help you identify dietary issues or other problems that may need to be addressed with supplements or other changes for their well-being.
Additionally, it’s important to observe a geriatric dog as he ages. If you observe that he is slowing down, there may be supportive care that you could provide him/her with early such as for an arthritic condition which is very common. This condition is not going to show up in the blood work, but the veterinarian will certainly make the appropriate suggestions in talking with the client and examining the dog. By adding the appropriate supportive veterinary medications, your dog will not only be more comfortable, but it may also extend their working life.
Use Preventatives as Needed
Regardless of where you live, heartworms can become an issue for your dog. It is crucial to keep up with your dog’s heartworm preventative. Without this preventive, heartworms will kill the dog over time. Flea and tick preventatives are necessary depending on where you live. Even if you keep your home clean and free of parasites, sometimes wild animals can carry them in. In other cases, your neighbors may not keep up with fleas and ticks as well you do, which can transfer over to your home.
Have Questions About Service Dog Care? Contact us Today!
If you have any questions about caring for your service dog, please reach out to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs today to learn more!
Whether a dog is a pet or a working dog, they all offer some level of emotional support to their owner regardless of their mental or physical condition. (more…)
April is the month of the military child, and children hold a special place in our hearts here at Guardian Angels. Many of our recipients suffer from PTS, and as a result, their children can be impacted by Intergenerational PTS. (more…)
The volunteers at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs are critically important. In fact, when I first started the organization, there was little to no funding. Therefore, I depended a lot on what volunteers were willing to do and capable of doing for me. They were a huge asset in many capacities, such as writing thank you notes, helping with cleaning and feeding the dogs, etc. Some of them even became our volunteer founding board members that are still with our organization today. (more…)
Sarah, a Military Sexual Trauma survivor, served in the Army from 2005 to 2007. Sarah had an accident, falling from a height of about 19 feet. During this time, she requested compassionate reassignment due to her husband at the time being ill. After her husband passed away, she got out of the military. “I stayed basically locked in my house, failing to adapt to civilian life,” Sarah said. (more…)
Exercise is a crucial part of the physical and mental health of your dog. When exercising with your dog, safety is key to preventing injury or long-term physical issues. At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we’ve put together some tips for safely exercising your dog, providing them with physical and mental enrichment.
Why is Exercise Important for a Service Dog?
Exercise is important for all dogs – especially service dogs. Since these dogs are working every day, they need mental and physical down time just like people. It keeps them in shape and allows them to release any excess energy they may have. We all need a way to have fun, be physically and mentally fit, so some well thought out, safe exercises are the answer. When receiving a service dog, it’s important to prepare your home including scheduling time for exercise.
Most of our dogs and lots of pet dogs love for their human to throw a ball. This is a great way to exercise your dog, and you too! Everyone loves seeing how athletic their dog can be by jumping up in the air to catch a ball, but when throwing their ball or other toy, only throw it low and straight away from you. Jumping up isn’t so bad, but the landing puts tremendous impact on their muscles and joints. They can tear ligaments or have long term joint inflammation that leads to early, crippling arthritis. If you truly love your dog, then respect him by practicing this exercise correctly so your dog won’t injure themselves by jumping up.
Depending on the disability of our recipients, there are also automatic ball launchers that can be used in place of throwing the ball for their service dog. You can teach the dog to drop the ball right into it and it will launch back out providing entertainment for your dog. Regardless of your ability to interact with your dog physically, you should always be with him while playing to further your bond.
Build a Confidence Course
For a more imaginative activity, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs builds confidence courses for our service dogs. These are both a physical and mental release for the dog while also serving as a team building exercise between the dog and handler or recipient.
To put these courses together, we build different platforms, steps, sway bridges, tunnels, wobble tables, tunnels and tires. It’s best to build them just a foot or two off the ground to be sure they stay safe if they jump off. These courses are only limited by your imagination. You can switch it up, go at it forward and backwards, etc. Just have fun while building your bond.
With a confidence course, you will need to go slowly at first, allowing the dog to ease into it. We do everything with positive reinforcement, helping them to find their comfort zone. These courses are great exercise for both the dog and the recipient.
Practice Obedience Drills
In addition to throwing a ball or using a confidence course, you can also go through the dog’s obedience such as sit, down, heal, recalls, etc. Practicing their obedience training with positive reinforcement is a great way to keep their skills sharp, exercise them physically and mentally, while also helping you and your dog learn to work well together. Bonding with your service dog is a crucial part of your relationship with them. If you are making it fun, they will always enjoy working for you. It is also a crucial part of being a pet owner in general.
Play Time Activities to Avoid
You never want to encourage your dog to jump or lunge for a treat or a toy. When you do this, you are teaching them to jump on the person holding the toy or treat. If the dog is big, then they could knock the person over or scratch them. They could also accidentally catch your hand or fingers with a tooth which never feels good. This type of activity is not proper communication with your pet because you are telling him/her that it’s okay to jump on people sometimes, but then in other cases, jumping won’t be allowed – very confusing messaging to the dog.
If the dog just came in with muddy feet and jumps on you right before you’re all dressed up about to go out, then you’re going to be mad at the dog for jumping when you are the one who taught them to jump on you in the first place. For many reasons, we strongly advise against teaching them to jump or lunge like this when playing.
As explained above, you don’t want to launch toys up in the air for them to catch. While dogs are fabulous athletes and we enjoy seeing them demonstrate their abilities, dogs do not realize that they can become injured from jumping into the air and hitting the ground. When they jump up like this, they can tear their equivalent to their ACL. It can also put tremendous impact on their joints, which can shorten their working life.
Always be aware of the temperature when you are playing outside. If it is too hot, only throw the ball 4-5 times. Many dogs are so ball driven that they would continue to catch the ball until they fall over with a heat stroke. If it is snowy and freezing weather, be sure to bring them in after a few minutes of playing so they can warm up their feet and toes again.
Want to Learn More About Service Dog Exercises? Contact us Today!
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we are proud to serve as a service dog non-profit where we have helped hundreds of recipients regain their lives. We are dedicated to providing our service dogs with the best training and care. Contact us today to learn more or see if you are eligible for a service dog!
If you are going to be paired with a service dog, it is important to be prepared to with the correct knowledge and supplies needed to provide proper care to your service dog and set yourselves up for success. There are several things that you will need that we can explore below…
Keep a Water Bowl or Bucket Available
Just like a regular pet dog, your service dog should always have a water bowl or bucket available to them. You can place the water bowl/bucket in a room where they can access it easily. It’s best to place the water bowl/bucket on a mat or a towel to soak up any mess as some dogs can be very messy drinkers. Be sure to clean and refill it with fresh water daily.
While many dogs sometimes prefer the hard floor, it’s always nice to provide them with a dog bed in the main areas you spend time in such as your living room, kitchen, or office. I would suggest one in your bedroom, but chances are your service dog may want to sleep in bed with you.
Toys for the Service Dog
When you receive a service dog through Guardian Angels Medical service Dogs, we already know what toys your service dog prefers. Because our dogs are large, we are very particular about the types of toys we use, so we will provide the appropriate toys at your pairing. Our service dogs will need toys that can withstand the wear and tear they put on them. Lower quality toys or plush toys can be easily shredded into pieces that the dog could consume, thus creating a potential serious or even life-threatening medical emergency. We never allow rawhides, cow hooves, etc., or any consumable toys.
Training Equipment for Your Service Dog
Training equipment will also be provided to you when you are paired with your Guardian Angels Medical Service Dog. This training equipment should never be changed without the advice from one of our trainers. Other people may do things differently than how are dogs are trained. Our dogs are not accustom to any harsh methods or training equipment. Our training methods are highly specialized and positive. We will teach you everything you need to know, and our trainers are always available to answer your questions or concerns.
Do I Need a Fence for My Service Dog?
At Guardian Angels, we highly prefer you have a fenced in yard, so the service dog has a place to run and play. Exercise is very important, even though they are working 24/7, they need to be able to play at least twice a day to stretch their legs, play ball and relax their minds. If you don’t have a fenced in yard, then you will need to find a place nearby that is fenced in. You can check out areas such as school yards, church yards, local community parks, etc. where your service dog can play ball, run, and have a good time while safely within a perimeter.
AVOID DOG PARKS with Your Service Dog
At Guardian Angels, we never allow dog parks for our service dogs for multiple reasons. They are a great place to pick up diseases, internal and external parasites such as worms, fleas, ticks, etc. Also, we never want our dogs to be in a situation where they would be challenged or jumped by an aggressive dog. Such an event can change their psyche making them defensive which could render them inappropriate as a service dog in the future. This is very serious, so protect your service dog. He is your lifeline.
Establish a Routine
When you first bring your dog home, we ask that you plan to stay home and continue your normal daily activities such as grocery shopping, working, going to school, etc. for the first couple of months. Do not host or attend large parties, attend concerts, go to shooting ranges, or other major activities in the beginning. This is because you and your service dog need time to bond. It’s very important that you get to know each other first and become comfortable with each other while doing everyday activities before adding any major activities as mentioned above. You should also talk to our trainers to be sure how to approach any new major activity as not all things are appropriate for a service dog or should be done in stages. Your trainer will advise you to insure your success.
Do Not Add Any Pets to Your Home
On the application, you will be asked what pets you already have in the home. These are the pets you can maintain once you’re paired, and no others. There are many variables we consider when choosing the most appropriate dog for you and your environment. If you tell us that you have goldfish, but you actually have three cats, the service dog may not cohabitate peacefully with them. Many of our dogs are fine with cats or other animals when working in public, but not all of them will share a home with other pets appropriately. Do not add pets to your home without notifying our trainers prior to considering such an addition.
Want to Learn More About Service Dogs? Contact us Today!
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we are happy to answer any questions you may have about service dogs and how to prepare your home for when you are paired. Contact us today to learn more at www.medicalservicedogs.org
Be Consistent in How You Behave and Communicate. Being a responsible human partner to your dog is accomplished by learning to understand how your dog thinks so that you’re not doing things that can confuse and frustrate your dog. Being consistent is key, just as unclear messages often result in the dog having undesirable behaviors that you may have caused. Don’t make something okay some of the time and then not okay at other times. For example, you can’t give him bites off your plate sometimes and then expect him not to beg other times. You must be clear and consistent with your messages. (more…)
If you are looking for a way to gain education on the communication between people and dogs, understand dog behaviors and how to train your dog, check out Good Dogs! podcasts. (more…)
A service dog serves as an extension of their recipient, helping them with daily tasks they can no longer do such as different levels of mobility/balance assistance, or alerting them in advance to medical issues such as low blood sugar, seizures, or PTSD episodes.
If you have been considering the idea of getting a service dog, you may be wondering where to start.
Assess Your Needs to Determine if You Qualify
To qualify to receive a service dog from Guardian Angels you must have a permanent disability. A permanent disability is something that would be life-altering, which prevents you from enjoying normal, everyday activities without assistance. Disabilities such as diabetes, seizures, PTSD, mobility and other invisible and visible disabilities may cause complications that create challenges for people to go out in public or to live at home alone. Some of these disabilities can become life threatening because of sugar levels changing – sometimes without the person realizing it, or they have a seizure which can result in catastrophic injuries, or a PTSD episode that ends in severe depression. If there is no one there to help in some of these scenarios, it could be fatal. Mobility is another permanent disability causing people to need assistance with balance and/or picking up dropped items, and more. Others may be in a wheelchair or have impaired use their hands or fingers. There are various levels of mobility challenges. Permanent disabilities interfere with everyday life functions.
In addition to qualifying medically for a service dog, our organization requires that you be physically, cognitively, and financially capable of taking care of the dog. We don’t train third party care givers or family members to help, so the disabled individual must be able to go through our pairings where they learn how the dog was trained, how to embrace that working relationship and care for their service dog. Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be okay if someone has to help you pour the dog food, but you have to be able to feed the dog, play with the dog, ask the dog for what you need, take the dog outside, etc. This helps to create an important relationship between the dog and recipient. This helps the dog know that he/she needs to work for that disabled individual. If someone else is feeding and caring for the dog, and all good things are coming from someone else, why would the dog pay attention to someone else. Establishing this connection is crucial, which is why we have set our training program up this way. If a caregiver or family member needs to remind the recipient of certain things they need to do, that is acceptable as long as the recipient is able to carry out the responsibility. Since a lot of people do have memory issues and may not have someone that can help them, there are aids you can use to remember the tasks for caring for the dog such as setting alarms.
You also need to be able to care for the dog financially. Your service dog will require premium dog food, veterinary care, grooming, toys and all the things that he needs and deserves to be kept in top condition. This dog will complete your life by doing tasks that you can no longer do on your own, so it is important that he be maintained properly.
If you qualify as having a permanent disability, you will be asked to provide confirmation of disability from your doctor.
Next, we will also look at your environment to be sure it is suitable for a service dog. Recipients must have permanent long-term housing in order to qualify.
If you have other pets, this complicates the situation. We will only place a service dog in a household where the other dog is of the opposite sex. There also must be someone else in the home to care for the pet. A service dog is a working dog and is not for the rest of the family to play with. We prefer no other pets be present in the family because they can distract the service dogs. It’s only natural that the service dog may want to play with the pet in the home which could cause him/her to miss important medical cues from his recipient. Additionally, if the pet in the home is not mannerly, it can lead to the service dog picking up their bad habits. Therefore, we prefer no other dogs or cats in the home. Other pets can make it very difficult for us to place a service dog in the home if not impossible.
As you can see, there are many different variable that we need to take into account to ensure we are setting our recipients up for success.
Become familiar with Service Dogs Laws
At Guardian Angels, we will provide recipients with education on service dog laws to ensure they are prepared for public outings with their service dogs and are aware of their rights and rules that must be followed.
Prepare Your Home for Your Service Dog
We prefer a fenced in yard, which can make life easier for recipients. If the home is not equipped with a fence, we recommend recipients find a fenced in area. Keep in mind, we do not allow our service dogs to be taken to dog parks. These are places where they can pick disease, parasites, and potentially be attacked by other dogs. If there is a fenced in playground, church yard, or somewhere nearby, that can be used to exercise the dog, this could be an acceptable solution.
All dogs require mental down time through proper play and exercise. This keeps them in top working shape both mentally and physically.
Before You Are Paired:
We do a series of educational orientations before the recipient is paired with their dog, where we will instruct them on what they need for their dog, how to properly care for their dog, what their expectations should be, what their new level of responsibility will be to the service dog, etc.
How Can I Apply for a Service Dog Through Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs?
To apply for a service dog, you can visit our website or call for an application to be sent to you by US mail. We have an application tab on our website that will ask you a couple of questions and then forward an application to you. Once we have received your completed form, a member of our Recipient Relations team will reach out to you via email to continue the application process.
Please contact us today if you have any questions about service dogs or how to apply for one with our organization!
According to the National Center for PTSD, about twelve million adults in the United States have PTSD during a given year. They also state that about six out of every one hundred people, or 6% of the population, will have PTSD at some point in their life. This research also shows that eight out of every one hundred women and four out of every one hundred men in the United States will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.
What Is PTSD?
Many people believe PTSD to be a psychiatric disorder, however, it is important to dig deeper in understanding what it truly is. In the past, PTSD has been referred to as “shell shocked”, “Johnny Blues” or “combat fatigue”, etc., referring to combat veterans, but PTSD is something that can happen to any person, no matter their nationality, culture, age, or ethnicity. PTSD happens to many individuals who have experienced a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events in their life, such as a car accident, witnessing a traumatic event, assault, violence, bullying, etc.
Research has produced evidence that the Hippocampus portion of the brain and the neurotransmitters have been damaged. These play a role in balancing emotions, along with important chemicals such as oxytocin and cortisol levels in the body. These become out of balance causing the symptoms of psychological disorders. But I believe there is a definite difference in it being purely a mental/emotional issue versus physical brain damage. PTSD is not something that can be cured. Drugs and therapy are merely management tools. PTSD is a permanent invisible disability just like seizures or diabetes, etc. – you do not see any of these disabilities, but they are very real breakdowns within your body that cause problems.
Examples: Epilepsy causes seizures triggered by the brain. You don’t see the dysfunction in the brain with the naked eye until someone has a seizure. Diabetes causes serious highs and lows in the bloodstream, but you don’t see that with the naked eye until someone becomes cognitively impaired or comatose. You don’t see PTSD with the naked eye, but you do see the afflicted individual become abnormally hypervigilant, panic attacks, night terrors, and serious mood swings that can result in life threatening depression, anger and rage, self-isolation and more.
There are varying degrees of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that can involve any number of symptoms such as anxiety attacks, fear of being in crowded public places, nightmares, flashbacks and more. People with PTSD may also suffer from negative intrusive thoughts, avoidance, forgetfulness, angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and more.
How Does a Service Dog Help with PTSD?
PTSD is one of the conditions that can make you eligible for a service dog. Service dogs use their keen sense of smell to identify when the body chemistry is changing. They begin to alert the recipient to the change in body chemistries before these manifest into panic attacks, nightmares, anxiety, etc. The dog intervenes before the symptoms become full-blown, by redirecting the disabled handler. A study by Perdue University found that once people got their service dogs, their chemical balances often came back into the normal range.
In the case of nightmares our service dogs interrupt them. Again, they are trained to alert to the chemical changes that are inducing the night terrors, so they awaken the recipient before they become full blown. We find the frequency of these nightmares is drastically reduced after receiving a service dog and life becomes much easier for the recipient with fewer panic attacks, ability to go out in public, less frequency/severity of night terrors, etc.
The service dogs are also trained in a technique called shielding. This skill prevents people from coming up behind the recipient or getting too close to their recipient in public by creating a non-aggressive, physical barrier between their recipient and the approaching stranger thus establishing a comfort zone to prevent startle sensitivity resulting in lower hypervigilance.
How Do Service Dogs Learn to Alert to PTSD?
Service dogs have a highly sophisticated sense of smell that allows them to alert the recipient in advance, helping their disabled recipient function in a safer, more normal manner throughout their daily life. We accomplish this by getting scent samples from a recipient after they have had a nightmare or a panic attack. We train with these samples, so our dogs know exactly what the body chemistry scent is like before they enter one of these episodes. This allows the dog to know when to intervene, stopping these attacks before they take place.
What Type of Training Do Medical Service Dogs Receive?
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, our medical service dogs receive no less than 1,500 hours of service dog training over a year and a half to two years. This extensive training includes, but is not limited to, desensitization, confidence building, basic commands, advanced skills, socialization, and public access training to ensure they can assist the recipient with every aspect of their daily life.
In addition to scent training (which is also used for diabetic alert and seizure alert), our service dogs can be trained to assist recipients who have disabilities such mobility and balance issues. Our service dogs are custom trained to perform daily tasks such as picking up dropped items, closing, and opening doors, shutting off and turning on lights, and more depending on the needs of the recipient. With this extensive training, our service dogs can help our recipients regain their life with their families and friends while also regaining their independence, happiness, and dignity.
Interested in Learning More About Service Dogs? We’re Happy to Help!
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we are happy to help you learn more about our dogs and our mission to help veterans, first responders, and others receive the service dog they need to regain their life.
Contact us today to learn more!