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Dogs ideal for companion therapy

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COMMENTARY

By CHRISTINE LECCESSE
Military Mental Health
The benefits of having an animal in your life go deeper than companionship. Research shows that people with dogs experience lower levels of stress hormones and higher levels of serotonin (feel-good chemicals) after 15 minutes of petting or watching their dog or cat. A study of 240 married couples found that the pet owners had lower blood pressure than the couples who had no pets.
Can a pet be more than just a feel-good companion? For soldiers returning from deployment with PTSD, they can be a lifesaver. A “Psychology Today” article from July 2011 detailed exactly why dogs help people with PTSD by relieving stress. Some of the things the article talks about include:
They’re vigilant. A dog by your side can be like a battle buddy. He or she alerts you to danger, and the dog’s calm can let you know that there is no actual pending danger—regardless of what your overdeveloped sense of fear may be telling you.
They’re protective. I had a friend whose dog would howl and growl if I raised my voice in conversation with his owner. It’s good to know someone’s watching your back.
They love you no matter what. Veterans with PTSD can have a difficult time reintegrating into society. Dogs don’t care. Having a bad day? Being short with family members? Your pooch is still overjoyed at the sight of your face – and wants to demonstrate that joy. How could a tail wagging so hard that a dog can barely walk straight not make someone smile?
They take orders well. Members of the military are accustomed to and comfortable with giving and taking orders. Dogs love authority, even if other members of your family bristle at it.
To hear an incredible, compelling, and heart-rending story of how Thor the dog saved the life (literally and figuratively) of Capt. Adrian Veseth-Nelson, please check out Military Pathway’s “Canine Companions and Your Emotional Health”Webinar. Adrian’s story will not be one you soon forget. The webinar also introduces you to the Battle Buddies program, a non-profit in which veterans help other veterans obtain trained canine companions to help them cope with post-deployment stress after returning home.
Whatever you do for PTSD stress relief is great. Not everyone loves dogs, but animals are only one way of coping with stress. Since the month of March on our blog is dedicated to Total Force Fitness, please visit us throughout the month to learn about the various ways military members seek out stress relief.
Military Pathways is a project launched by a nonprofit organization and the Department of Defense. It provides free, anonymous, mental health and alcohol self-assessments for Family members and service personnel in all branches including the National Guard and Reserve. The self-assessments are a series of questions that, when linked together, help create a picture of how an individual is feeling and whether they could benefit from talking to a health professional. You can learn more at http: //www.militarymentalhealth.org/welcome.aspx.