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Dog training alleviates PTSD symptomatology by emotional and attentional regulation

By I. Maoz, S. Zubedat, T. Dolev, S. Aga-Mizrachi, B. Bloch, Y. Michaeli, Y. Eshed, D. Grinstein, A. Avital

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BACKGROUND: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms include re-experiencing, avoidance, hyperarousal, and cognitive deficits, reflecting both emotional and cognitive dysregulation. In recent years, non-pharmacological approaches and specifically animal-assisted therapy have been shown to be beneficial for a variety of disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and PTSD. However, little is mentioned in the literature about the reciprocal effects of the animal-human interaction. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effects of a one-year dog training programme on PTSD symptomatology in youngsters with PTSD and on dogs' behaviour. METHODS: Fifty-three adolescents, previously exposed to interpersonal trauma, were clinically diagnosed with PTSD and assigned to a dog-training programme group (n = 30) and a control group (n = 23) that engaged in other training programmes (e.g. cooking, hairstyling, etc.). Both groups were evaluated at baseline and following 12-months by The Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 in Children and Adolescents (CAPS-CA-5) and Beck-Depression Inventory (BDI). Additionally, we physiologically measured both emotional and attention dysregulation. RESULTS: Post-12-months training, a significant alleviation of PTSD symptomatology accompanied by lower depression severity was observed in the dog-training group, compared with a insignificant recovery in the control group. Furthermore, improved emotional and attentional regulation was observed in the dog-training group. Measuring the dogs' behaviour revealed increased anxiety and decreased selective attention performance, which was inversely correlated with the beneficial effects observed in the dog-training programme group. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings emphasize the role of emotional and attentional regulations on the dog-handler interface, as evidence-based support for the beneficial effects of the dog-training programme, as either a non-pharmacological intervention or as complementary to anti-depressants treatment of PTSD. Though pharmacological treatments increase the patients' well-being by treating certain PTSD symptoms, our suggested dog-training programme seems to influence the PTSD diagnostic status, thus may be implemented in civilians and veterans with PTSD.

Publication Title Eur J Psychotraumatol
Volume 12
Issue 1
Pages 1995264
ISBN/ISSN 2000-8198 (Print)2000-8066
DOI 10.1080/20008198.2021.1995264
Language eng
Author Address Behavioral Neurobiology Lab, Department of Occupational Therapy, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.Nursing Department, Jerusalem College of Technology, Jerusalem, Israel.Department of Psychiatry, Emek Medical Center, Afula, Israel.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Dogs
  3. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder