Service dogs for veterans with PTSD

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The problem

Many soldiers will experience confronting events during their deployment in conflict areas or peace missions. Some of the experiences can be so traumatic that the military veteran continues to suffer from it even after coming home. This experience or trauma, with all the fears and sense of powerlessness is relived again and again, making a normal life almost impossible. This disease is known as post-traumatic stress disorder from which veterans suffer in their daily lives and puts a heavy burden on their families and social environment.

Apart from the well-known psychotherapeutic interventions it seems that the deployment of specifically trained service dogs caries a great promise as an effective treatment for PTSD in veterans. Since its start in 2012, around 15 service dogs have now been trained and matched by St. Hulphond Nederland. Many positive effects were seen from a psychosocial perspective.

The effects of deploying trained service dogs or up until know predominantly registered by using subjective methods such as questionnaires and self-reflection. Although useful, more objective and reliable techniques need to be developed in order to allow for an optimal matching between the veteran and the dog and to have the best effect possible.

The V-PWR Project team

In order to execute this research well, a project team has been formed, combining relevant expertise and impact. The team members are:

  • Emmy van Houtert MSc, PhD candidate, Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Nienke Endenburg, psychologist human-animal relationship, Assistant Professor Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • dr. ir. Hans Heesterbeek, Head of Department, Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • dr. colonel Eric Vermetten MD, OC MGGZ / LUMC;

What do we want to do

Our aim is to improve our knowledge and understanding of the interaction between a veteran and the service dog. We intend to start by measuring a number of psycho-physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, (night) activity, acceleration, skin temperature and skin-electric activity.

By using smart-watches we intend to visualize the psycho-physiological status of the veteran as a basis to determine the interaction with the dog.

As a second approach we intend to expand our research by measuring behaviour and other neurocognitive and biological parameters (attention span, memory, hormone levels such as cortisol and oxytocin) in both man and dog. By analysing the behaviour of the dogs and hormone levels, a clear picture can also be drawn on the animal welfare aspects of training and using a dog as a PTSD service dog. Especially from a veterinary viewpoint this element requires our dedicated attention.

The end result

Our aim is to develop a kind of therapy in which a specially trained service dog can assist the veteran to the best of its abilities, while maintaining optimal welfare standards for both man and dog.

Support us today and help veterans with PTSD! 

 

The problem

Many soldiers will experience confronting events during their deployment in conflict areas or peace missions. Some of the experiences can be so traumatic that the military veteran continues to suffer from it even after coming home. This experience or trauma, with all the fears and sense of powerlessness is relived again and again, making a normal life almost impossible. This disease is known as post-traumatic stress disorder from which veterans suffer in their daily lives and puts a heavy burden on their families and social environment.

Apart from the well-known psychotherapeutic interventions it seems that the deployment of specifically trained service dogs caries a great promise as an effective treatment for PTSD in veterans. Since its start in 2012, around 15 service dogs have now been trained and matched by St. Hulphond Nederland. Many positive effects were seen from a psychosocial perspective.

The effects of deploying trained service dogs or up until know predominantly registered by using subjective methods such as questionnaires and self-reflection. Although useful, more objective and reliable techniques need to be developed in order to allow for an optimal matching between the veteran and the dog and to have the best effect possible.

The V-PWR Project team

In order to execute this research well, a project team has been formed, combining relevant expertise and impact. The team members are:

  • Emmy van Houtert MSc, PhD candidate, Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Nienke Endenburg, psychologist human-animal relationship, Assistant Professor Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • dr. ir. Hans Heesterbeek, Head of Department, Department of Animals in Science and Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine;
  • dr. colonel Eric Vermetten MD, OC MGGZ / LUMC;
  • (R) major-veterinarian dr. Joris Wijnker, Assistant Professor IRAS – Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

What do we want to do

Our aim is to improve our knowledge and understanding of the interaction between a veteran and the service dog. We intend to start by measuring a number of psycho-physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, (night) activity, acceleration, skin temperature and skin-electric activity.

By using smart-watches we intend to visualize the psycho-physiological status of the veteran as a basis to determine the interaction with the dog.

As a second approach we intend to expand our research by measuring behaviour and other neurocognitive and biological parameters (attention span, memory, hormone levels such as cortisol and oxytocin) in both man and dog. By analysing the behaviour of the dogs and hormone levels, a clear picture can also be drawn on the animal welfare aspects of training and using a dog as a PTSD service dog. Especially from a veterinary viewpoint this element requires our dedicated attention.

The end result

Our aim is to develop a kind of therapy in which a specially trained service dog can assist the veteran to the best of its abilities, while maintaining optimal welfare standards for both man and dog.

 

Our target amount is € 25.000

We intend to start with an initial research project focussing on the psycho-physiological effects of the dog-veteran interaction. For these specific measurements we require the use of smart watches.

In addition to this crowd-funding opportunity, the V-PWR project is financially supported by the Karel Doormanfonds – relief fund for Navy personnel