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Dog Ownership and Training Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Increases Self-Compassion Among Veterans: Results of a Longitudinal Control Study

By D. Bergen-Cico, Y. Smith, K. Wolford, C. Gooley, K. Hannon, R. Woodruff, M. Spicer, B. Gump

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Objectives: The aims of this study were to measure the potential impact of a therapeutic dog ownership and training program for Veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Design: The study used a quasi-experimental design with two cohorts of Veterans-a dog owner-trainer intervention and a wait list control group. Participants completed baseline and 12-month follow-up assessments. Setting: Clear Path for Veterans, a nonclinical, open recreation facility whose mission is to support Veterans and their families in the reintegration process after military service. Subjects: Participants (n = 48) were either enrolled in the veterans therapeutic dog owner-trainer program (Dogs2Vets) or were placed in the wait list control group. Intervention: Veterans were enrolled in the Dogs2Vets program, a 12-month structured dog owner-trainer program that engages veterans in the training and care of a dog that they ultimately adopt. The Dogs2Vets Program focuses on the healing aspects of the human-animal bond. Outcome measures: PTSD Checklist, Military Version (PCL-M), perceived stress scale, self-compassion scale (SCS) composite, and SCS subscales for isolation and self-judgment. Results: Veterans participating in the Dogs2Vets owner-trainer program experienced significant reductions in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, perceived stress, isolation, and self-judgment accompanied by significant increases in self-compassion. In contrast there were no significant improvements in these measures among veterans in the wait list control group. Qualitative data reinforced the statistical findings with themes of decreased isolation, unconditional acceptance and companionship, and a renewed sense of safety and purpose from their relationships with their dogs. Conclusion: Veterans benefit significantly from dog ownership in combination with a structured dog training program. Not only do they experience significant decreases in stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms but also they experience less isolation and self-judgment while also experiencing significant improvements in self-compassion.

Publication Title J Altern Complement Med
Volume 24
Issue 12
Pages 1166-1175
ISBN/ISSN 1075-5535
DOI 10.1089/acm.2018.0179
Language eng
Notes 1557-7708Bergen-Cico, DessaSmith, YvonneWolford, KarenGooley, CollinHannon, KathleenWoodruff, RyanSpicer, MelissaGump, BrooksJournal ArticleUnited StatesJ Altern Complement Med. 2018 Dec;24(12):1166-1175. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0179. Epub 2018 Sep 25.
Author Address Department of Public Health, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.School of Social Work, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.Department of Psychology, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY.Clear Path for Veterans, Chittenango, NY.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adults
  2. Animal-assisted interventions
  3. Animal-assisted therapies
  4. Animals
  5. Compassion
  6. Dogs
  7. Empathy
  8. Females
  9. Humans
  10. Longitudinal studies
  11. Males
  12. Middle Aged Adults
  13. Ownership
  14. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  15. self
  16. Stress
  17. surveys
  18. United States of America
  19. veterans