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PTSD service dogs foster resilience among veterans and military families

APA Citation:

Nieforth, L. O., Craig, E. A., Behmer, V. A., MacDermid Wadsworth, S., & O’Haire, M. E. (2023). PTSD service dogs foster resilience among veterans and military families. Current Psychology, 42, 13207-13219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01990-3

Abstract Created by REACH:

Although Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their families face many challenges, service dogs trained as companions for Veterans with PTSD are one form of support that may help Veterans and their families. This qualitative study asked open-ended questions to Veterans (n = 67) and spouses (n = 34) about experiences with Veterans’ PTSD service dogs and their impact on the family. Three key themes emerged reflecting that although service dogs can be an added burden to the family, they also tend to benefit Veterans’ health and well-being and can mitigate family stress while promoting a sense of togetherness.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Nieforth, Leanne O., Craig, Elizabeth A., Behmer, Virginia A., MacDermid Wadsworth, Shelley, O’Haire, Marguerite E.


Military deployment and reintegration challenges permeate the lives and relationships of Veterans, their spouses, and their families. Among these challenges, 23% of post-9/11 Veterans have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychiatric service dogs have been found to help clinically alleviate PTSD symptoms when used as a complementary intervention. However, minimal research exists that explores the role of the service dog as a mechanism for cultivating resilience within the military family system. Researchers utilized a qualitative, constant comparative approach to analyze self-reported experiences of 101 individuals, including   Veterans (n   =   67) and their spouses (n   =   34). Analyzed through the framework of the Theory of Resilience and Relational Load (Afifi et al., 2016), findings suggest complex communication processes that facilitate relational and family adaptation. These processes encompassed (a) the role of the service dog in building emotional reserves, (b) relational load introduced when caring for the service dog, and (c) the service dog’s facilitation of relational maintenance behaviors among family members that contributed to communal orientation. Based on the results of this qualitative analysis, researchers suggest educational interventions where service dog trainers and mental health practitioners can incorporate relational maintenance strategies and family-focused approaches to integrating service dogs as military family members.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:


Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Center for the Human Animal Bond, College of Veterinary
Medicine, Purdue University, LON
Department of Communication, North Carolina State University, VAB
Center for the Human Animal Bond, College of Veterinary
Medicine, Purdue University, VAB
Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, SMW
Center for the Human Animal Bond, College of Veterinary
Medicine, Purdue University, MEO


animal-assisted intervention, trauma, duman-animal interaction, family communication, resilience

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award number R21HD091896; Merrick Pet Care; and the PetCo Foundation. This publication was made possible in part by Grant TL1TR002531 (T. Hurley, PI) from the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Clinical and Translational Sciences Award.

REACH Newsletter:

  December 2021

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