Dog training

Health Canada funds assistance dog training program for PTSD


OTTAWA – Health Canada is funding special training for service dog trainers to teach animals to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The online training course, funded by the Ministry’s Addiction and Substance Abuse Program, is designed to help trainers prepare service dogs for veterans, including those recovering from drug addiction.

Professor Colleen Dell, an expert in animal-assisted procedures at the University of Saskatchewan, led the team that developed the toolkit.

His research has found that assistance dogs can significantly help veterans with PTSD. But they are still in the minority among those who receive service animals.

“We’ve done a lot of research that shows that service dogs can absolutely help veterans,” Dell said. “Assistance dog organizations can have 100 clients, and 10 are veterans.”

Since 2015, the professor has been studying the impact dogs have on veterans who suffer from drug addiction and mental health issues after leaving the military.

Her research found that veterans with PTSD who received a service dog saw their use of alcohol, illegal and legal drugs decrease, as did their symptoms of PTSD. He also found that petting a dog can “disrupt emotional overload.” Some veterans, too traumatized to leave home, have taken to going out for dog walks and socializing.

There are more than 500 service dogs currently in use by veterans in Canada, with more in training, Dell said.

Dogs are trained to comfort veterans, provide companionship and support, and awaken them from nightmares.

The course was designed by a team of universities across Canada, veterans, service dog groups and the councils of Indigenous Elders.

It will be made available to 40 assistance dog training organizations that also train dogs to help people who are blind, deaf and have other disabilities.

The toolkit will address issues such as substance use, the importance of peer support and the impact on veterans of an emotional bond with animals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 10, 2021.