MSAR Elite Service Dog program trains world class service dogs for any disability and some even one of a kind service dogs.
MSAR was the first organization to have PTSD service dogs. And our founder was the first, first responder in Canada with a PTSD service dog.
MSAR started the first and largest service dog program for veterans and first responders as featured on W5 – K9 Comrades the most viewed show in W5 – CTV history, as well as Animal Planet (Collar of Duty), Canada Am, Good Morning America, Ice Road Truckers and all major news outlets broadcasting in Canada (including CNN).
MSAR was the first service dog agency to advocate and push for a National Service Dog Standard.
MSAR also has multiple dogs nominated and inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame – K9 Stinky would be the best example as she was honoured for saving 7 veterans lives suffering with PTSD.
MSAR also states that Post traumatic stress disorder is Post traumatic street injury. That people are injured from their trauma and that the word disorder is too negative.
What is “PTSD”?
PTSD, or Post -traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.
People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when you are trying to do something else. The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind you of the trauma, isolating from other people, or feeling numb. The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or startling easily.
PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting. (Department of veteran affairs)
MSAR has concluded after the international study in 2016, that the preferred breeds with the best likely hood of success for owner training and our program are listed below. We are not stating that other breeds do not make good service dogs; because we have a Service Dog that was a Rottweiler inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame for saving 7 veterans lives. What we are saying is that the best breeds with the greatest amount of success for working in the field of PTSD are as follows:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Mixture of the Poodle with the first two – Labradoodles, Golden Doodle, ect..
Breed selection is determined by tasks, allergies, handler experience and work environment -what the study has determined is that dogs bred for guard work require confident handlers and are not recommended for psychiatric work – i.e. shepherds, mastiffs, terriers have a lead or follow mentality and can treat the handler as a resource or possession and protective traits become prevalent.
A person suffering from PTSD sexual assault will collapse upon themselves and the dog must be an anchor, provide compression and direct attention to the handler. Not protect the handler.
A person suffering with PTSD from military conflict can be combative when approached, react in anger and may bolt. Thus the dog needs to interrupt and deescalate the situation and redirect the handlers attention. Not protect the handler.
Types of “PTSD”
MSAR is continually researching and developing training methods to produce a better service dog. Upon completion of the study it was forwarded to a team of PTSD Psychiatrist and Psychologists; with favourable input from the medical professionals we have put the results into action to better serve all people suffering with PTSD – military, first responders and the general public.
In 2016, MSAR announced the conclusion of it’s participation in an international study on training programs used for psychiatric service dogs. The study was conducted by an informal consortium of K9 trainers from thirteen different countries, including data from 500 service dog teams. The findings from this study have had a groundbreaking impact on MSAR’s internationally recognized post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychiatric service dog program and will be reflected in MSAR’s current and future discussions on developing National Service Dog Standard.
MSAR continues to emphasize that a proper training and certification model is critical to the successful use of psychiatric service dogs as a therapeutic aid for our veterans, first responders and general public dealing with PTSD in all its forms.
PTSD is a complex condition and service dog training must reflect the different traumas and triggers that individuals may have. It has become clear that treating PTSD with a service dog requires a whole lifestyle change which must be reflected in the breed of service dog selected and the regimen used for pairing the service dog team. The consequences of failure are clear – poorly trained service dogs do significant damage to the client relying on them as part of their treatment and represent a significant public liability risk through the possibility of dog on dog or dog on person violence.
The conclusions from the study indicated that the best possible outcome for people can be achieved by sub dividing PTSD into six specific training categories with four different service dog training models. PTSD is a complex condition and service dog training must reflect the different traumas and triggers that individuals may have.
PTSD has 6 Categories:
- Combat / Operational – military
- Visual / Scents / Environmental (as seen by a first responder)
- Complex PTSD – childhood trauma
- Involuntary Muscle Agitation (Rare)
- Forcible Confinement
- Sexual / Psychological, Physical Abuse
Following the study, for the purposes of our service dog program, PTSD will be divided into six specific categories to be determined through assessing the client’s medical history and their physical response to public access and various stimuli. These categories will then be matched with four different training models which will in turn be compared to a 75 task training sheet to be used with the individual and the service dog. (Note that some people may show indicators for multiple categories – this would then be discussed with the medical team for direction of importance.)
The 4 Types of PTSD Service Dogs
Four PTSD Service Dog Training Models:
- Model 1 – Combat / Operational
- Model 2 – Visual / Scents / Environmental
- Model 3 – Involuntary Muscle Agitation
- Model 4 – Complex PTSD, Forceable Confinement, Sexual / Physical Abuse and Self-harm / Self Medication / Addictions
MSAR understands the complexity of ptsd and this must be reflected in the training of the service dogs, therefore we find it impossible to have one ptsd service dog type to meet all the different requirements and triggers of the handler. We have categorized ptsd service dog in 4 types of service dogs and then match the tasks from the 75 related dog tasks.
Insurance / Standards / Certification / Aftercare / Support (Legal, School)
Choose the best organization that fits your needs, there has been a recent influx of service dog providers since MSAR spot lighted the need for veterans on W5 – Canine Comrades. Most are still in the beginning stages and have limited understanding of service dogs and especially PTSD. MSAR started and developed our PTSD service dog program from a study conducted from the turn of the century, modelled on our Therapy, Facility and Emotional support dogs. MSAR has a solid background and years of research and development of service dogs – so ask what experience they have and proof of this.
Ask if the company has liability insurance and how much, generally you are looking for at least 2 million liability. It is not an easy process to get insurance for service dog providers and many are operating without insurance.
Talk to their clients – See their dogs. We suggest that you go to their Facebook page and see what dogs they are promoting, many organizations only train a few dogs and some just purchase dogs and pass them along. See if they are promoting their dogs or stories from other people or organizations on the internet. Ask to see their dogs, talk to the people that have their dogs.
Trainers – CMDT. What is their training system, their service dog standard? Who are their trainers and what is their background, do they have a trainer development courses and require their trainers to be certified and insurance by their organization. What levels of service dog training do they have and what is required of you to become a certified service dog team. We recommend that you be skeptical if they offer you a dog already done, if there is limited training time and you are immediately certified. All our dogs are trained and placed with clients (times vary) from 1 year to 2 years of age and then the client must work and train with their dog for at least six months prior to challenging the certification test. Our tests take multiple days and really challenge the handler as a team to make sure the dog and handlers are working together to meet the needs of the disability and functioning in a safe public work environment.
Level of Service Dog Knowledge. MSAR has extensive background in the development of service dogs and in particular for this paper PTSD service dogs. MSAR was the first provider to deliver PTSD service dogs and worked extensively with the Winnipeg Foundation to build a PTSD training model starting the training of service and working dogs centred around military, first responders and the client base of civilians dedicated to the principle of providing highly skilled and effective Certified Service Dogs to those whose lives depend on them.
Are they trying to sell you something. For anyone that has applied to MSAR they know that the first thing we try to do is talk you out of getting a service dog. It is a big responsibility and we want to make sure that adequate thought has been put into getting a dog, many people are desperate and will try anything. We slow down the process for the safety of the person and the dog to confirm that a service dog is needed. Of the hundreds of phone calls a month we get only a few turn into MSAR family members and receive a service dog. Some times people just want to ask and see if it fits for them, because really how many times do people going looking for a service dog. An example would be a person with PTSD that wants no public interaction and wants to be a fly on the wall, this is virtually impossible because of the person having an invisible disability – some people think that they are the trainer and not the handler of the dog. So this person would have regular interaction and sometimes even challenged as to why do you need a service dog – your not blind. MSAR asks for a full family and medical team evaluation to confirm that this is what is best for all before getting service dog.
Discuss with the organization what kind of support that they offer for ongoing training and recertification. Do you have a point of contact that can be reached should an emergency arise, have questions regarding care of the dog, travelling, housing, or employer issues related to having a service dog. Is there legal support should you be refused access?
In conclusion, take your time and research (google) the organization to find the right one that meets your needs. Ask lots of questions, be skeptical and remember what a huge responsibility service dog ownership is.
How does a Service Dog help “PTSD”?
There are a few different methods to help those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including: medication, counselling, and support groups. Though these methods can help they may not always help the person deal with day to day activities such as going to the store or going for a walk down the street, this is where a Service Dog can come into play.
A service dog trained for “PTSD” can do a multitude of helpful tasks to help a person get through their every day life including, but not limited to:
- Grounding, distracting, or guiding their handler in an event such as dissociation or panic
- Provide tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy
- Interrupting potential disruptive behaviour toward self or others
- Find objects for handler
- Alert to oncoming panic
- Blocking handler in public when people are too close
- Wake handler during a night terror and keeping handler calm upon awakening
While these are only a few tasks that can be trained to help a person with “PTSD” there are also many other ways to help, such as getting the handler out of the house or simply providing companionship.
Best method for dealing with PTSD
The process of the MSAR study revealed that the best method for dealing with PTSD is a complete medical treatment plan. For the purpose of simplicity, we have broken it down into an eight point program.
- Detailed and quality psychiatric support
- The introduction of medications as a stabilizer with the gradual removal of these medications as the patient improves.
- Regulation of sleeping. Minimum 7-10 hours per day with the addition of a 20-40 minute nap during the day as needed.
- Support from key groups like family, friend and peers.
- The introduction of a professionally trained service dog to match the specific PTSD category which reflects the disability of the patient.
- Natural diet of fresh foods including fruits, vegetables, meats and dairies with limited processed foods and the elimination of added sugars from the diet.
- Daily physical activity consisting of 20-30 minute walks and weight lifting 2-4 times per week.
- Activities should be scheduled into daily routines to build structure and a pattern of positive behaviour and sense of control.
Successful treatment for PTSD has been found in our study to be that of following this format under direct support and guidance of your medical team. PTSD will never go away, however you can greatly improve your quality of life with one of the best partners going – a Service Dog.
Please take a moment to view a few of the current active PTSD Service Dogs in our program: