Online Program

Service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder: Findings from the PAWS Study

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 : 9:30 a.m. - 9:50 a.m.

Carla Green, PhD, MPH, Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Bobbi Jo Yarborough, PsyD, Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Scott Stumbo, M.A., Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Micah Yarborough, M.A., Center for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR
Ashli Owen-Smith, PhD, School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
Joy St. Peter, Joys of Living Assistance Dogs, Keizer, OR
Michelle Nelson, PhD, Business Department, Linfield College, McMinnville, OR
Bonita Bergin, EdD, Bergin University of Canine Studies
Background: Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are increasingly turning to service dogs to help manage mental health disabilities, but limited research exists documenting effectiveness.

Methods: PAWS was a mixed-methods study of veterans with PTSD with service dogs, or on waiting lists for dogs. Twenty veterans received service dogs as part of the study. Participants completed questionnaires and interviews. T-tests examined mean differences between those with and without dogs on standardized measures; repeated measures t-tests examined changes following pairing with study-provided service dogs.

Findings: We enrolled 78 veterans (30.7% women, mean age=42.5). Veterans with and without dogs had similar scores on combat exposure measures (Deployment Risk & Resilience Inventory), suggesting combat exposures did not differ. PTSD symptoms (PTSD Symptom Checklist) and depression-related functioning (BASIS-24) were lower among those with dogs than without. Those with dogs had better overall mental health (VR-12), less substance abuse (BASIS-24), and rated their interpersonal relationships better than those without service dogs (BASIS-24). Repeated measures tests on the 20 individuals who received dogs showed statistically significant improvements in depression, PTSD symptoms, and mental health. Improvements in substance use and interpersonal relationships were not significant.

Implications: Service dogs may provide psychiatric benefits to veterans with PTSD by decreasing PTSD-related symptoms, depression and substance abuse, and improving mental health. Because groups were non-equivalent and not randomized, differences cannot be directly attributed to service dogs. Future research should confirm these results by conducting a randomized clinical trial with a larger sample of veterans with PTSD.

Learning Areas:

Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Evaluate the effectiveness of service dogs on improving psychiatric outcomes among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Keyword(s): Veterans' Health, Mental Health Treatment &Care

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have worked in health services research for more than 15 years. I was involved in the conception, design and implementation of the PAWS project. I have worked with psychometric measures across several health contexts.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.