7 Best Dog Breeds For People With PTSD
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.
1. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers are one of the most popular breeds for service of all kinds because they pair intelligence and an eagerness to please with high levels of emotional intelligence and affection. For the job of a PTSD therapy dog — which can include everything from fetching medication and attempting to minimize flashbacks to general companionship — they're a seriously highly-qualified breed. Golden retrievers tend to be the go-to breed for PTSD therapy dogs for veterans, but can be accessible to the general population as well.
2. Labrador Retriever
You'll likely be familiar with labradors as assistance dogs in general, as they tend to be favored for guide dog programs. There's a good reason for that — they're smart, quiet, and can follow a lot of commands. They also have an excellent temperament for psychiatric assistance work, explains Loving Your Lab: "They tend to be calm dogs but have plenty of energy, which means they aren’t overly excitable but are able to perform lots of necessary tasks. Labs are also hyper-aware of everything going on around them, which means they can alert their owner to danger or other things that need immediate attention."
3. Lhasa Apso
With the proper training, the small, cuddly Lhasa Apso can be a brilliant therapy dog. "Their cheerful disposition is sure to put a smile on your face when you need it the most, and they can also learn to recognize the different moods and react appropriately — 'nudging' you back to the right course of action in certain situations," explains Pet Guide. They're personable and like strangers, but will always stick by your side when you're feeling vulnerable.
4. Doberman Pinscher
The service dog organization Anything Pawsable highlights the Doberman Pinscher as one of the best breeds for psychiatric assistance work. "Dobies are often called “velcro” dogs because they bond very tightly with their handler," they note. "Dobies are known for following their person from room to room and insisting on being close at hand, all the time. As a service dog, this behavior can be exceptionally helpful, but it needs to be watched so it doesn’t develop into separation anxiety." Their alertness, attention and deep bond with their owners, plus their physical strength and capability, can make them extremely effective PTSD therapy dogs.
5. Standard Poodle
Poodles have a reputation for intelligence, but their suitability for psychiatric assistance jobs goes beyond their smarts. Standard poodles, explains Anything Pawsable, are "extremely sharp, trainable dogs with an aptitude for all kinds of Service Dog specialities. They excel with alert and mobility tasks." Their alertness means they can be easily trained to look for triggers and signs of flashbacks, and help cope with consequences and fetch helpful items.
The American Boxer Club notes that boxers "make wonderful service dogs" — partly because of their ready obedience, but also because of their affectionate natures and tendency to be extremely loyal to owners. They've been trained for all sorts of service dog work, and can offer PTSD therapy help through their calmness, adaptability to training and sheer affection. (Though you do need to have a certain tolerance for slobber.)
7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
These dogs might not fit the typical mold of a service dog, but depending on the needs of the person with PTSD, their extremely affectionate and cuddly nature might be the key to effective therapy and support. They provide companionship constantly and are easy to handle, which can be important if PTSD causes mobility issues. They're also intelligent and quick learners, which is vital for any service dog breed. Look on your lap and there's a strong change your Cavalier King Charles is there waiting for some snuggles.
If you're in need of a PTSD service animal, know that all dogs are created equal, or that your family pet is wholly qualified to help. Some breeds have natural aptitude for the work that being a PTSD assistance dog brings. Talk to your mental health support team about how to find a therapy animal that's specifically well-suited for supporting PTSD.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.