Dog Ownership and Training Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Increases Self-Compassion Among Veterans: Results of a Longitudinal Control Study

Dessa Bergen-Cico, Yvonne Smith, Karen Wolford, Collin Gooley, Kathleen Hannon, Ryan Woodruff, Melissa Spicer, Brooks Gump

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objectives: The aims of this study were to measure the potential impact of a therapeutic dog ownership and training program for Veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Design: The study used a quasi-experimental design with two cohorts of Veterans - a dog owner-trainer intervention and a wait list control group. Participants completed baseline and 12-month follow-up assessments. Setting: Clear Path for Veterans, a nonclinical, open recreation facility whose mission is to support Veterans and their families in the reintegration process after military service. Subjects: Participants (n = 48) were either enrolled in the veterans therapeutic dog owner-trainer program (Dogs2Vets) or were placed in the wait list control group. Intervention: Veterans were enrolled in the Dogs2Vets program, a 12-month structured dog owner-trainer program that engages veterans in the training and care of a dog that they ultimately adopt. The Dogs2Vets Program focuses on the healing aspects of the human-animal bond. Outcome measures: PTSD Checklist, Military Version (PCL-M), perceived stress scale, self-compassion scale (SCS) composite, and SCS subscales for isolation and self-judgment. Results: Veterans participating in the Dogs2Vets owner-trainer program experienced significant reductions in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, perceived stress, isolation, and self-judgment accompanied by significant increases in self-compassion. In contrast there were no significant improvements in these measures among veterans in the wait list control group. Qualitative data reinforced the statistical findings with themes of decreased isolation, unconditional acceptance and companionship, and a renewed sense of safety and purpose from their relationships with their dogs. Conclusion: Veterans benefit significantly from dog ownership in combination with a structured dog training program. Not only do they experience significant decreases in stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms but also they experience less isolation and self-judgment while also experiencing significant improvements in self-compassion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1166-1175
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • animal assisted interventions
  • dog therapy
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • self-compassion
  • stress
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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