Assistance Dogs Australia’s program for people living with PTSD
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) support dogs are trained to reduce the impact of specific symptoms for people living with this condition and improve their overall quality of life.
Assistance Dogs can help guide those living with trauma back to a sense of safety, helping to improve interpersonal connections, encourage engagement in the community, and regain areas of functioning that may have been diminished by their trauma.
All ADA trained and qualified dogs have full Public Access Rights, allowing them to accompany their handlers on all public transport and into almost all public areas. These rights are protected under Federal law*.
Our dogs are trained to the highest standards and are accredited by Assistance Dogs International.
Our program provides Assistance Dogs to successful applicants free of charge, entirely funded through charitable donations from individuals and corporations.
While we wish we could open our program to all those living with post trauma stress, ADA is currently only placing dogs with former Australian Defence Force or Police personnel diagnosed with PTSD.
What is PTSD?
All of us will experience some form of trauma during our lives, and most of us will recover without long-term difficulty. Some people who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, or experience a particularly traumatic incident, may go on to develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Our bodies instinctively respond to threat to help us survive-to get away, fight the threat, or slow down to let the threat pass. This is known as the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. Intense or repeated trauma can lead to this response becoming extremely sensitive.
When this happens almost any environment becomes threatening, and anything relating to the traumatic incident provokes an activation of the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. This contributes to many of the symptoms we associate with PTSD:
- Re-experiencing trauma when reminded of it
- Avoiding reminders of trauma
- Low mood or depression
- Severe anxiety
- Reactivity, irritability, and agitation
- Disturbed sleep and nightmare
Significant psychological, social, and functional difficulties may come out of this. PTSD is particularly prevalent in former military and police personal who often endure exposure to traumatic incidents in the course of their duties. Up to 25% of Australian Defence Force personnel who have transitioned out of active duty, and 20% of police, would meet criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD.How can an Assistance Dog help?
Assistance Dogs help people with PTSD in two ways; Advanced Skills Training, and the Human-Animal Bond:
- Advanced Skills Training:
All ADA dogs undergo rigorous preparations for up to two years, including 16-20 weeks of advanced skill training. Our dogs master bespoke cues aimed at addressing PTSD-specific areas of difficulty, including:
- Positioning cues, which allow the handler to position the dog as needed and create space for themselves in public or crowded places, allowing for an increased sense of security and encouraging community engagement.
- Contact cues, which allow the handler to request physical contact facilitating grounding, mindfulness, and focus.
- Nightmare interruption, which allows a dog to recognise signs of distress in sleep, or immediately after waking, and provide support for calming.
People living with PTSD often show external signs associated with their stress response (e.g. bouncing legs, rubbing hands, breathing heavily, sweating excessively etc.). Our PTSD dogs are trained to use these external signs as cues for relevant skills to provide support when it is needed most.
Our training is highly personalised, shaping the dog’s skills to individual needs. We encourage and support ongoing skill development in our dog teams.
- The Human-Animal bond:
The close bond between a person and their dog encourages a sense of safety which can be tremendously beneficial for people living with PTSD.
The calming influence of a dog can help reduce both physical and psychological reactivity which is particularly relevant for people who have experienced trauma.
By tapping into this calming effect using grounding techniques, an Assistance Dog can reduce the threat response allowing for increased community engagement and calmer interpersonal interactions.
We work with successful applicants to encourage a strong bond with their dogs, and through this bond, gain the skills and motivation they need to reach their goals.
The Public Access Rights granted to Assistance Dogs allow this calming influence to be present as needed throughout the day, across almost all settings.
It cost around 40 thousand dollars to train a dog.
*Assistance Animal Public Access Rights are protected under federal law through the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. People who receive a PTSD Service Dog are provided with a photographic identity badge as proof of Service Dog status, which they must take with them in public, and a Service Dog jacket for the dog.
Stephane and Veo’s story
After serving in the armed forces for 18 years, both at home and abroad, Stephane was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After being matched with Veo, Stephane has told us how his life has changed, and continues to change each day they are together.
“Veo’s company is an endless source of support for me.I find myself laughing at his mischief; seeing new things that I couldn’t see before; having the motivation to leave the house and also having protection at all times.”
“By being by my side when I withdraw and disappear, Veo has given me the mental fortitude to do the things I would normally shy from and or avoid.”
Veo has had an impact on not only Stephane, but the whole family too.
“Most of all, my little girls love him and he brings us all together.”
- Assistance Dogs Australia – Web Link