Dogs Trained to Heal Iraq Vets' Mental Scars

'Psychiatric service' pooches respond to PTSD sufferers' needs
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2009 10:28 AM CDT
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to be empathetic to their master's needs.   (Shutterstock)
camera-icon View 1 more image

(Newser) – The golden retriever nuzzles his master as though he wants a treat, trots into the kitchen, and waits patiently. His master walks over and, under the pet’s watchful gaze, takes a series of pills. The dog wags his tail with approval. He is a psychiatric-service dog, part of a new generation of service animals designed to help those with mental illness—including, most recently, Iraq and Afghan war veterans with PTSD, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The dogs are trained by prisoners in the Puppies Behind Bars program. They learn to monitor their masters’ breathing, perspiration, scent, and other signals of oncoming panic attacks. They can wake their masters during nightmares, or create space for them in a crowd. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg,” says one veteran. “It’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.'”