All of us will experience some form of trauma during our lives, and most of us will recover without long-term difficulty. Some people who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, or experience a particularly traumatic incident, may go on to develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Our bodies instinctively respond to threat to help us survive-to get away, fight the threat, or slow down to let the threat pass. This is known as the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. Intense or repeated trauma can lead to this response becoming extremely sensitive.
When this happens almost any environment becomes threatening, and anything relating to the traumatic incident provokes an activation of the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. This contributes to many of the symptoms we associate with PTSD:
Re-experiencing trauma when reminded of it
Avoiding reminders of trauma
Low mood or depression
Reactivity, irritability, and agitation
Disturbed sleep and nightmares
Dissociation, (to name but a few)
Significant psychological, social, and functional difficulties may come out of this. PTSD is particularly prevalent in former military personal who often endure exposure to traumatic incidents in the course of their duties. Up to 25% of British Military personnel who have transitioned out of active duty would meet criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD.
How can an Assistance Dog help?
The close bond between a person and their dog encourages a sense of safety which can be tremendously beneficial for people living with PTSD.
The calming influence of a dog can help reduce both physical and psychological reactivity which is particularly relevant for people who have experienced trauma.
By tapping into this calming effect using grounding techniques, an Assistance Dog can reduce the perceived threat response allowing for increased community engagement and calmer interpersonal interactions.
We work with successful applicants to develop the vital bond with their dogs, and through this gain the skills and motivation they need to reach their goals.
All VWD dogs undergo extensive preparation and training for up to a year before being placed with a Veteran, who then train together for another 12-18 months in advanced skills training.
People living with PTSD often show external signs associated with their stress response (e.g. agitation such as bouncing legs, rubbing hands, head in hands, breathing heavily, sweating excessively etc.). Our dogs are trained to use these external signs as cues for relevant skills to provide support or interruptions when it is needed most.
Our training is highly personalised, shaping a dog’s skills to an individual needs.
We also encourage and support further ongoing skills development once both Veteran and their dog have qualified as an Assistance Dog partnership.