Sign up FAST! Login

VA study on whether dogs can heal vets with PTSD has critics

Critics of the study object most strongly to the tasks the VA is requiring of the dogs — sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, for example, or protecting the veteran by "blocking."

"Isn't that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That's supporting paranoid, pathological thinking," said Meg Daley Olmert, author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.


Stashed in: Awesome, PTS, PTSD

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Olmert is chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for their fellows. The group's leaders say dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

The VA's training protocol "reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD," said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for Warrior Canine Connection.

(Army veteran Joe Aguirre opens a restaurant door, then steps aside to let his golden retriever take point. "Clear," Aguirre commands, and 3-year-old Munger pivots right, left, then right again, sweeping the room for potential threats.

"He's basically looking for ... anything that would be out of the ordinary. A bag. A particular weapon. People acting erratic," says Aguirre, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. At the cash register, Aguirre says "Block," and the dog places himself perpendicular to his master, creating a buffer to anyone who might approach.

Before Munger, a simple outing like this would have been terrifying if not impossible. "He's put faith back into my way of looking at society," Aguirre says.)

Did the study conclude that dogs can help people with PTSD?

You May Also Like: