Can a canine companion soothe the volatile emotions of a soldier haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder?
It may sound far-fetched, but the Department of Defense wants to find out.
It is spending millions of dollars on medical research projects like this that may yield groundbreaking results but are too speculative for other government agencies to consider.
So the Defense Department is financing a $300,000 study that will pair troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with dogs trained to sense when their masters are about to have a panic attack and give them a calming nudge or nuzzle.
These psychiatric service dogs have been assisting people with a variety of mental illnesses since the late 1990s. About 10,000 such dogs are now in use.
New but preliminary research suggests that the dogs may be particularly helpful for people with PTSD.
And that has the military interested.
"It's a powerful intervention. We expect a very large effect," said research psychologist Craig Love.
Love will be conducting the study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center with Joan Esnayra, founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society.
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