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Considerations for Recommending Service Dogs versus Emotional Support Animals for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Macy Porter, Melissa Y. Winkle, Ellen Herlache-Pretzer

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Background: Health care providers must understand factors that may guide the decision-making process for determining whether a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is appropriate for a service dog (SD) versus an emotional support animal (ESA), and assist SD training organizations in determining trained tasks that are suitable for the veteran’s needs.

Purpose: This study explored the perspectives of SD training organizations and factors for human health care providers to consider before recommending a veteran with PTSD for a SD versus an ESA. The researchers identified information that providers should give organizations to guide the SD training and placement process.

Methods: A nonexperimental web-based survey research design, including closed- and open-ended questions, was used to collect data. The sample population included SD training organizations in the United States and Canada that train SDs for veterans who have PTSD.

Results: Results suggest that there are skills that can be completed by both SDs and ESAs, and specific tasks that can be only completed by SDs. Health care providers must consider factors related to animal welfare, human cognitive and psychosocial functioning, symptomatology, and expectations when determining if a veteran is a good fit for a SD versus an ESA. For veterans who are appropriate for a SD, information about individual functioning and needs in the above areas can help trainers make the best decisions regarding SD dog matching and training.

Conclusion: Health care providers can play an important role in determining if a veteran with PTSD may benefit from a SD versus an ESA, and help SD training organization make informed decisions regarding SD partnership and training. Health care providers must have a strong understanding of the roles and functions of SDs and ESAs, and how dog partnership may help or hinder a veteran’s pursuit of independence in daily activities at home and in the community.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2021
Publication Title People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 17
ISBN/ISSN 2575-9078
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Dogs
  3. Emotional support animals
  4. Mammals
  5. open access
  6. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  7. Service animals
  8. veterans
  1. open access