For people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an assistance dog can have a life-saving effect. A study published in 2018 found that interacting with a therapy dog after a triggering film clip created "lower anxiety levels, less negative affect, and more positive affect." Whether you're looking for a therapy dog, a service dog, an emotional support animal, or just a companion, certain dog breeds can be suited to living with people who live with PTSD.
"The unconditionally loving nature of dogs helps individuals with PTSD emerge from the protective emotional shells they have built around themselves," Dr. Barbara Nosal, chief clinical officer at Newport Academy, a treatment center specializing in adolescents, tells Bustle. "Service dogs for PTSD, considered psychiatric service animals, provide additional, very specific assistance: They are trained to wake their owners if they are experiencing night terrors or nightmares, ground their owners during a flashback or distract them from negative behaviors or triggering events, retrieve medication, initiate tactile interventions during periods of sensory overload, lead them safely to an exit should they experience a panic or anxiety attack, and guide them home during a dissociative episode."
While most studies involving dogs for PTSD focus on the experience of veterans, service dogs can be helpful for people who've lived through sexual assault or other "significant trauma," says the Service Dog Certifications Association.
Some breeds might be great dogs for other kinds of support, but aren't suited to PTSD support. "A good support pet is social and loving with other people and animals, has a natural ability to anticipate their owner’s needs, and is not easily excitable," Dr. Nosal says. "Each breed has unique personality traits that should be taken into consideration. For instance, breeds that are natural protectors may make excellent guard dogs, but may be overly reactive to sounds or perceived intrusions — resulting in constant barking, which can create more anxiety for their owner."
Therapy dogs with training can be obtained from specialist organizations, or your own dog can undergo certification to see if it might be suitable for therapy dog status. Here are seven dog breeds that make good support animals for people living with PTSD.