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Healing Therapy: A New Role for Man's Best Friend (Report of December 4, 2013 Conference)

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This is the report summarizing presentations and discussions at the December 4, 2013 conference hosted jointly by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the National Intrepid Center for Excellence (NICoE; associated with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, located in Bethesda, MD).  The conclusions listed in the Executive Summary are:

Convening Conclusions:

-The human-animal bond is real and there is ample anecdotal evidence that the bond can result in emotional benefits.

-There is general agreement that service dogs can successfully assist individuals with physical impairments in hearing, vision, mobility, seizures, etc. However, no similar consensus exists regarding the therapeutic benefit of service dogs in the treatment of psychological health and stress disorders. The definition, training, and therapeutic efficacy of service dogs for those with psychiatric disabilities continue to be controversial in the behavioral health community.

-There is an immediate need for further clinical research into the potential therapeutic benefit of service dogs for individuals suffering from combat stress.

-Clinicians, policymakers, and the service dog industry should work together to develop universally recognized standards and criteria to include 1) definitions of the various types of assistance dogs such as service dogs, therapy dogs, facility dogs, medical response dogs, animal-assisted activity dogs, etc. and 2) credentialing of service dog trainers and training organizations.

-Programs such as the Warrior Canine Connection in which veterans and service members suffering from combat stress train mobility service dogs for fellow wounded warriors can serve as a model for clinicians, patients and families and can complement traditional therapies.

Recommendations for specific next steps fell into three general areas:

-Research into the therapeutic efficacy of using service dogs in psychiatric and combat stress treatment protocols

-Research into the selection, training, and assignment of these service dogs

-Development of policies regarding definitions and diagnoses of PTS and TBI symptom clusters and standards for service dog training and credentialing


Michael Fallon

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Date 2013
Pages 31
Publisher Bob Woodruff Foundation
Conference Title Healing Therapy: A New Role for Man's Best Friend
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Animals in culture
  5. Mammals
  6. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  7. service dog training programs
  8. Working animals