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PTSD and Anxiety Management
Golden Opportunities for Independence works to help individuals with PTSD and anxiety, live more active, healthy lives. So how can a service dog help you?
PTSD and anxiety are managed by a service dog when they react to, predict, and prevent, oncoming episodes of dissociation, self harm, anger, nightmares, and any behavior associated or caused by PTSD and anxiety. Service dogs react to these conditions with specific tasks trained for each individual. These can include:
Grounding with positive pressure/grounding through touch
Dogs are trained to lay across the handlers chest or legs to calm them. This works in the same way that swaddling a baby does. The handler is taught to stroke the dog in sets of 10, focusing on the feel of the dogs fur, listening to them breath and, feeling their body heat. The handler is taught to remember the dog was not there in times of active duty, that they did not feel the dogs fur there, they are not there, and that they are safe.
Waking from nightmares through gentle touch or barking
Dogs are trained to nudge their handler, lick the handlers face or hands to wake them from nightmares. If the veteran tends to become confused and may hurt dog upon waking, the dog will be taught to get off the bed and bark to wake the handler from a safe distance. Once awake the handler can cue the dog to start grounding.
Anger intervention through grounding and touch
If the veteran expresses nonviolent anger during anxiety the dog can intervene with nudging, bringing the veteran something to hold, distraction with licking. The cue for this is usually raised voice, pacing, sighing or fidgeting.
Body blocks/create space in a crowd
The dog is trained to stand behind their handler in line to create space. The dog can be taught to circle handler off leash in a crowd to create a safe bubble.
Knocking hands apart during self harm
If the veteran has habits of self harm during anxiety the dog can be taught to target their hands and stop the habit. The dog can be taught to bark at the sight of firearms if the veteran has concerns of severe self harm.
Alerting to approaching people “Watch my six”
The dog can nudge handler if someone is approaching them from behind. This can be used at store counters, ATMs, parking lots, or anywhere the handler may be distracted from what’s behind them.
Stepping between approaching people
The dog can be taught to step between the handler and an approaching person to stop contact.
Backing people away
The dog will step backward toward the person to cause them to back up. If a dog walks forward towards someone they will most likely pet the dog but people tend to move if the dog is going to back into them. This creates space for the handler without them having to tell someone to back away.
Creating diversion in triggering situation
A simple and discreet hand signal or noise will tell the dog to refuse to lay down/pace/scratch the floor and appear they need to go outside. This gives the handler a simple reason to excuse themselves from the triggering situation.
Finding exits or safe corner in dissociative episodes
If the veteran is experiencing dissociation in public spaces, the dog can be taught to find an exit or a corner away from windows where they can comfort the veteran.
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