service dog laying in grass

Research conducted by Leanne Nieforth, MS, and her team at Purdue University found veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were more resilient and better able to reintegrate themselves into society if they had the assistance of a service dog.

Their research suggests that the inclusion of a service dog creates a better bond between a veteran and their spouse. Since the service dog acts as a member of the family, the couple has to manage its behavior. This process builds on and challenges the emotional supply of the couple through the relational load of the service dog.

“We wanted to focus on the influence of the service dog on military families, specifically the spouses,” said Nieforth, who is a Human-Animal Interaction PhD candidate. “We believe that by incorporating a dog into a military home, a connection can be built in the family. Our main goal is to help these families become more resilient.”

Nieforth and her team’s work is based on resilience and relational load theory. Being more resilient means that a person can have an easier time adjusting to challenges and changes in their lives.

Previous research and studies have shown that service dogs can be a contributing emotional member of military families, but Nieforth and her team want to understand the psychological elements of the relationship to better understand the science behind service dog usage.

When asked about the future of her research, Neiforth said the next step is to help families understand what it means to have a service dog in their home.

The research team works with a national nonprofit service dog provider, K9s for Warriors, to ensure each military family is suited with a resourceful service dog. Their work with the program doesn’t just help the military families, but also finds sheltered dogs a home.

There are many different breeds included in the research. But, before the dogs are allowed to be included in the program, they have to be screened for temperament and also have to be the appropriate size, 24 inches from foot to shoulder. Neiforth also said that one day she hopes to be able to judge the different effects on a family based on the breed and size of a dog.

Neiforth and her team’s research is supported by the Centers for the Human-Animal Bond (CHAB). The organization provides researchers an opportunity to bring together an interdisciplinary team to work on animal-assisted interventions and learn more about the bond between humans and animals.