Service Dogs for Wounded Warriors with PTSD: Examining the Couple Relational Experience


TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


At least one-quarter of service members who have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis, of which Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most common. Social support provided by close relationships has been shown to be a buffer against PTSD symptoms. However, PTSD can also have devastating effects on couple relationships, hampering this form of social support. One promising intervention for PTSD has been the use of service dogs specially trained to perform tasks related to PTSD symptoms. Anecdotally, there are promising individual outcomes for veterans with PTSD who are partnered with service dogs; however, the effects of these service dogs on the couple relationship for veterans who are married or in long-term relationships has yet to be explored. Seven couples participated in in-depth, semi-structured interviews related to their experiences of their relationship before, during, and after acquiring a service dog trained to respond to PTSD symptoms. Responses were analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Themes derived were loss of self, living with the enemy, to hope or not to hope, running the gauntlet, pawsitive reinforcements, and turning the tide. Results are weighed against existing literature in the field, clinical and public policy considerations are offered, and directions for future research are proposed.



PTSD, service dog, combat veteran, couple relationship, phenomenology