Dogs & PTSD

Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.

Clinically, there is not yet enough research to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been conducted.

What are the emotional benefits of having a dog?

Dogs can make great pets. Having a dog as a pet can benefit anyone who likes dogs, including people with PTSD. For example, dogs:

  • help bring out feelings of love
  • are good companions
  • take orders well when trained. This can be very comfortable for a servicemember or veteran who was used to giving orders in the military.
  • are fun and can help reduce stress
  • are a good reason to get out of the house, spend time outdoors, and meet new people

What is a service animal?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work include:

  • guiding people who are blind
  • alerting people who are deaf
  • pulling a wheelchair
  • alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure
  • reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications
  • calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack

Service animals, sometimes called performance companion animals, are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some state and local laws also define a service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the state attorney general’s office.

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

Under the ADA, a service animal must be allowed into the place of public accommodation or into the public entity. However, dogs that are either not working or not performing a task but are there simply to keep the person with a disability calm are not protected by these regulations; these animals are providing emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship rather than working or performing a task for the handler. That is, these animals are not engaged in what the U.S. Department of Justice would refer to as “recognition and response.” Further, the ADA is not the only law in play. For example, the Fair Housing Act and its regulations do allow for emotional support animals. Also, the various states will have different approaches for dealing with service animals.

Where to Get Help for PTSD

Are you are in crisis? You have options:

  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest Emergency Room
  • Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Contact the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1 (text 838255) or Confidential Veterans
  • Chat with a counselor

Please note that the National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals. We provide information to help you find local mental health services and information on trauma and PTSD.

More information is available at PTSD Care for Everyone.