Written for the Crockett Foundation by Diane Baren – April 2017
Learning to train service dogs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is difficult work. It requires that both the trainer and the dog have specialized knowledge and skills. The most successful trainers learn to identify the most appropriate dogs for service dog work by recognizing their potential to learn quickly and to learn well – including having an ability to evaluate human behavior.
Service dogs must identify potential threats to their person, so their trainers must train the dogs to recognize anxiety alerts their person might give out. They recognize crisis behavior in their person.
Successful trainers will maximize the dog’s instinct to build bonds and partnerships with humans.
The trainer must match the correct dog with the correct Veteran suffering from PTSD. Understanding PTSD is the basis of understanding how a service dog can benefit the Veteran. It helps you understand how the Veteran feels and what they need from their dog. It’s equally important to know what a service dog should not do, as it is important to know what a PTSD service dog can do.
[Having a Service Dog: Learn about Service Dogs in this Crockett Foundation post here.
[Here’s a great explanation of the differences: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) vs. Common Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for people living with mental health disabilities to actually do the training of their own psychiatric service dog. From the online publication Veterans Today, here’s a great article written for Veterans about training your own PTSD service dog.
When studying to be a service dog trainer there will be classroom work about PTSD.
In addition to hands-on training time with dogs, classes will cover behaviors and struggles associated with psychological injuries. You’ll learn the ways in which the Veteran’s recovery from PTSD is improved by use of a PTSD trained service dog.
Not all dogs are meant for the life of a service dog. There are characteristics of behavior, physical stature and stamina that most frequently make for the best PTSD service dogs. In classes you’ll learn about ideal breeding (and cautionary tales), temperament, and other characteristics. Dogs aren’t the answer for everyone living with PTSD. People learning to work as service dog trainers learn to recognize veterans who are most likely to have long term benefit and perhaps recovery with a service dog.
Matching a Veteran to the right dog is a learned skill-set, and you might be naturally great at it.
An in-depth application and screening process help PTSD service dog trainers evaluate the Veteran’s current support system, the Veteran’s needs – as well as their desire to grow and heal. This part of the service dog trainer training process will help you confidently determine if having a service dog is appropriate to a particular Veteran’s recovery process.
At the best service dog trainer schools you’ll do the following:
- Develop your dog teaching skills:
- To alert their person of a pending anxiety / panic attack in mixed environments.
- To hug / lean on their human when they sense they’re in a time of emotional crisis.
- To ignore other animals and humans trying to get their attention / affection.
- To wake up their human to interrupt nightmares.
- Learn about teaching veterans:
- To make use of the dog through various crises.
- To integrate the new dog into the family.
- Learn about PTSD service dog myths and misconceptions.
- Learn how military culture affect Veteran life.
- Learn about using dog therapy for PTSD and other conditions.
- Learn to recognize and understand symptoms of PTSD and how to train a dog properly to assist in recovery for Vets with PTSD.
There are service dog training programs for experienced professional trainers as well as for people looking to get started in the dog training industry.
As the old saying goes, dog is man’s best friend. And an expertly trained dog who was properly selected can be a source of remarkable transformation for a Veteran working to reclaim confidence and joy in life.
The Crockett Foundation’s mission is to support the best Veterans charities by making donations to, which helps sustain their programs that work directly with our military Veterans. You may partner with the Crockett Foundation by donating here.
Other blog posts of interest:
Art Therapy for PTSD: Check-out the Crockett Foundation post on Art Therapy for PTSD here.