Ross Zafonte, DO: Research Shows Service Dogs Can Significantly Help Veterans with PTSD


For tens of thousands of years, there has been a deep symbiosis between humans and dogs. With their superior senses—far more attuned than those of humans—dogs have come to discern human emotions, something that benefits both species. Research in the last several decades has also shown that service dogs that have been exceptionally trained and certified can help people the symptoms of PTSD like nightmares, anxiety, and sleep and behavioral disturbances.

Dr. Ross Zafonte is the Chief of Traumatic Brain Injury for Home Base, part of the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Care Network.

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Canine-based therapies are important and maybe at a more important intervention in the future. So, clearly they’ve been used in PTSD to help with nightmares, anxiety, behavioral disturbance, guiding people and ameliorating some of the symptomology. Dogs have a unique aspect of understanding our emotions and empathizing with them. And we’re beginning to see that in certain populations of brain injury patients there may be equally as beneficial an effect. Now when we think about it, it makes sense. We’ve had a symbiosis with dogs for tens of thousands of years. And they have evolved, in many ways, to both sense our emotions because there was a gain in it for them, and also potentially use many of their other senses that are superior - hearing or smell - to guide what they may or may not be doing. So the animals that we’re talking about for those with PTSD are exceptionally well trained - exceptionally well trained and certified to be able to provide assistance to those warriors. BrainLine is powered in part by Wounded Warrior Project to honor and empower post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families.

Posted on BrainLine October 6, 2021. Reviewed October 6, 2021.

About the author: Ross D. Zafonte, DO

Dr. Ross Zafonte is the Clinical and Research Leader for Traumatic Brain Injury at the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. He is the Earle P. and Ida S. Charlton Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, vice president of Medical Affairs at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at MGH.

Headshot of Dr. Ross D. Zafonte