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Trial on assistance dogs for vets not needed – we know it works

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Slater and Gordon Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs has called a Federal Government trial to see if assistant dogs can help veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) unnecessary – claiming there is already clear evidence the technique works.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan yesterday announced the Government is working on a trial to evaluate the mental health benefits of assistance dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. The trial is expected to collect evidence to help develop future policy to further meet the mental health needs of veterans.

However, Mr Briggs said there were presently several organisations, including Young Diggers and Assistance Dogs Australia, which already run these programs effectively.

He said the trial was not only a misallocation of money it was also wasting time for many veterans and ex-service personnel who needed assistance immediately.

“We already have reports that prove that dogs can assist veterans with PTSD to feel less irritable, become more patient, calmer, happier and can increase their emotional control,” Mr Briggs said.

“The government should be using this money to support and expand current initiatives that we already know work.”

Under existing programs run by Young Diggers and Assistance Dogs Australia, dogs undergo a unique training placement where they are trained to work with a person’s specific needs, including detecting signals of anxiety. As a result, they can;

  • Stand in front of their owner offering a barrier and space.
  • Position themselves behind a person, easing hyperawareness – the feeling of constantly being on edge.
  • Enter a room before the owner and turning on the lights so they don’t have to enter a dark space.
  • Enter a room or house and sweeping it for people or intruders, alerting its owner by barking.
  • Provide physical contact if their owner suffers a nightmare.
  • Divert their owner's attention to the dog, helping to bring their owner back to the present moment.
  • Provide continuous companionship and a sense of routine.

In his announcement, Mr Tehan acknowledged that more than 30,000 Australian veterans have received service-related support for PTSD. He said the trial was being developed to guarantee the safety of the human, the animal and the general public.

PTSD defines a set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them. The person experiences feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror.

Existing programs:

  • Young Diggers – runs The Dog Squad, which is aimed at helping defence families better cope with the effects of PTSD, while saving the lives of rescued dogs.
    www.youngdiggers.com.au/dogs
  • Assistance Dogs Australia – place dogs with the people living with PTSD. These dogs are trained to provide a combination of physical task-oriented and emotional support to assist their owner and help them overcome fears.
    www.assistancedogs.org.au/pages/ptsd-service-dog.html