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National standards being set for service dogs

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone following highly stressful situations, but among the most frequent sufferers are Veterans returning from war.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone following highly stressful situations, but among the most frequent sufferers are Veterans returning from war. Living with the long-term condition creates further stress, stress that easily spreads to others who are close to the sufferer.

That’s where man’s best friend comes in – in this case psychiatric service dogs, trained to help someone with a mental health condition. They do this by performing certain tasks in response to cues from their owner, helping them manage many of the common symptoms of PTSD, and guiding them away from stressful situations. They also give physical support if their owner loses his or her balance.

Veterans who benefit from the use of service dogs for mental health conditions will welcome a recent announcement from Veterans Affairs Canada. Its Minister, the Hon. Erin O’Toole, during a visit to the National Service Dogs House and Training Centre in Cambridge, Ontario, announced the decision to set national standards for service dogs.

“We expect this work will confirm what Veterans have been telling us about the benefits of psychiatric service dogs – how these dogs have improved their quality of life. The Government of Canada is committed to supporting research to achieve better outcomes for Veterans with PTSD and other mental health conditions.”

Having national standards will help ensure consistency across the country for psychiatric service dogs. The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), in consultation with Veterans’ groups and psychiatric service dog training providers, will set the standards.

Minister O’Toole was in Cambridge to meet with Veterans’ groups and members of psychiatric service dog training organizations. He also explained the work being done to better serve Veterans and their families who are living with mental health conditions, including ground-breaking research into the effect of psychiatric service dogs on Veterans with PTSD.

The Minister highlighted as well the extensive network of mental health clinics and service points. These assist Veterans from across the country, including the 24-hour hotline, which provides immediate psychiatric assistance for all Veterans and their families.

The pilot research, which will include up to 50 Canadian Veterans with service dogs, is expected to be first class and ground-breaking. It could even help set standards of Veteran service dogs and their certification in allied countries.

Operational stress injury clinics provide full assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for Veterans and their families who are living with operational stress injuries, including PTSD. Together, VAC and DND have a network of 27 specialized mental health clinics where individuals can be served in person. Veterans and their families can receive emergency mental health counselling with a professional over the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the toll-free assistance line: 1-800-273-TALK.

Veterans Affairs Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada are working together to develop a Veteran-specific Mental Health First Aid training program. Psychiatric service dogs are an important component of this program and will help bring improvements to the lives of Veterans suffering from this debilitating mental health condition.