Miller, Elise A.; Nieforth, Leanne O.; MacDermid Wadsworth, Shelley M.; and O'Haire, Marguerite E., "Blessing or Burden? The Impact of PTSD Service Dogs on Military Families" (2021). Discovery Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Research Internship. Paper 43.
Date of this Version
posttraumatic stress disorder, service dogs, military families, caregiving
While PTSD service dogs are specifically trained to interact with their veterans, emerging evidence suggests that service dogs may also have an impact on other members of veteran households. To our knowledge, only one study quantifies these effects focused on veteran spouses (McCall et al., 2020). Our study aimed to quantitatively measure the impact of PTSD service dogs on military family wellbeing. Data was collected from survey responses of 88 veteran spouses who rated their experiences on standardized outcome measures. Each spouse answered the surveys at two time points: (1) baseline, and (2) three months post-baseline (follow-up). Spouses in the control group (n=40) were on the waitlist for a service dog for both baseline and follow-up, while the service dog group (n=48) received a service dog after baseline. Multiple regression analysis yielded statistically significant differences between the waitlist and service dog groups which suggested that service dogs may increase caregiver burden and decrease caregiver satisfaction, but potentially encourage increased participation in activities for veteran spouses. Small effect sizes suggested service dogs may also foster increased companionship and positive affect in veteran spouses. Analyses indicated no notable impact on veteran children. These findings suggest that the impact of PTSD service dogs may extend to veteran spouses, potentially encouraging interest and investment in this complementary intervention option. Two statistically significant negative effects emphasize the need to inform the military family of practical strategies to minimize possible detrimental effects, which would likely lead to an improved family experience with the service dog.