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15th September 2023

Study finds assistance dogs improve veteran mental health

Trevor Shinnick and Sophie

Assistance dogs significantly improve the mental health of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a first-time pilot study has found.

Preliminary findings show that partnering veterans with an assistance dog helps reduce stress, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, and potentially improves symptoms of depression, anger and insomnia.

Each year around 46 per cent of the 5000 ADF members who transition to civilian life, experience mental health issues including suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression.

Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff, MESHA Executive Director, said the study was the first of its kind to provide a compelling evidence base for further and ongoing policy and funding for assistance dog programs across Australia for veterans and first responders with PTSD.

Funded thanks to your donations, the study examined two specialised PTSD assistance dog programs in reducing mental health symptoms over a one-year period.

These included the Operation K9 program run by See Differently for the Royal Society for the Blind, and the PTSD Assist program run by Assistance Dogs Australia.

There were 44 participants in the study, including 37 ADF veterans matched with assistance dogs who were assessed prior to receiving their dog, and later at three month, six month and 12 month follow-ups.

Results found statistically significant reductions in stress, anxiety and PTSD scores at the three-month follow-up after receiving their dog. These improvements persisted at the six-month, and 12-month follow-up timepoints.

The study was authored by Dr Craig Hansen, Marie Iannos, Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff and published in the Psychiatry Research journal.

In 2015, former veteran Trevor Shinnick (pictured) was matched with an assistance dog called Sophie. He had been diagnosed with chronic war suffering PTSD, after serving in the Vietnam War as a combat medic.

Trevor describes the bond he shares with Sophie as “immeasurable”.

“I have been able to live more ‘in the moment’ and to appreciate life,” he said.

“Sophie is always with me and provides support when anxiety and re-occurrence of stress manifests.”

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