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Healing Therapy: A New Role for Man's Best Friend (Report of June 12, 2014 Conference)

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This is the summary of the second conference hosted by the Bob Woodward Foundation on the potential use of service dogs to treat Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The first was held in December of 2013.

The Executive Summary

On June 12, 2014, the Bob Woodruff Foundation sponsored a second convening on the use of service dogs in treatment protocols for service members and veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS). The event brought together representatives of more than 20 professional organizations that breed, train, and place service dogs and have experience in animal-assisted therapy for behavioral health. The goal of the convening was to gain a better understanding of the perspectives and issues confronting the service dog industry, report on the state of the science that underlies animal-assisted behavioral therapy, share industry best practices, and find ways to work together to advance the use of service dogs for those with psychological disorders.

Presentations included an overview of the use of dogs by the military to include deploying service dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan; efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to develop policies regarding the use of dogs for behavioral health; and the science that underlies treatment protocols to help patients recover from combat stress. In addition, the founding director of Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) described the innovative program taking place at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), and at the VA polytrauma center in Palo Alto, in which PTS patients are taught to train service dogs for fellow wounded warriors who need service dogs for mobility assistance. The WCC program is designed to mitigate PTS symptoms such as re-experiencing, emotional numbing, and social isolation.

NICoE leaders announced the launch of a two-week baseline pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of the WCC program in the treatment of PTS patients. The study will measure hormone levels and neuroendocrine system regulation and assess mood, social support, health, sleep patterns, and perceived stress.

As a follow up to the convening, several participants volunteered to conduct a survey of the service dog community to identify commonalties in the following areas:

  • The kinds of dogs used
  • The number of dogs placed each year
  • Training criteria for dogs and trainers
  • Tools used to assess client needs
  • Clinical models employed
  • Process used to match client and dog
  • Measures used to assess outcomes
  • Business models employed

Michael Fallon

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Conference Title Healing Therapy: A New Role for Man's Best Friend (A BWF High Impact Collaboration)
URL http://bobwoodrufffoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/05Healing-Therapy-final-Report-June-2014.pdf
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

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