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AUDEAMUS Service Dogs has been involved in three mayor research projects, which have been completed with one being Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program. The findings from these projects will continue to inform our programming and identify areas imperative to service dog team success.

Key Findings

Importance of Human Animal Bond Substance Use Reduction:
Study: 2017 pilot study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the University of Saskatchewan and AUDEAMUS Service Dogs.

The findings provide sufficient reason to further investigate the impact of the human-animal bond for veterans with PTSD and paired with a PSD, and specifically among those who problematically use substances.

  • High levels of alcohol use among the veterans to cope and escape uneasy feelings and its over-use generally as a part of military culture, veterans being highly medicated through prescribed drugs and their misuse, and illicit drug use (including opioids) to escape and experience peace.

  •  A significant reduction in the varied drug use through the introduction of a PSD was found. The service dogs supported veterans’ physical health (e.g., “my service dog is with me 24/7 and no human can do that”), a sense of psychological acceptance (e.g., “my service dog reminds me that there is good in the world”), social connection (e.g., connection to a sentient being), and a spiritual purpose (e.g., having hope and a sense of purpose).

Study 2022: Second Pilot Study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the University of Saskatchewan and AUDEAMUS Service Dogs.

A second pilot study by the same and some additional partners is a retrospective review of the prescribing histories of four veterans with PTSD and participating in the AUDEAMUS Service Dogs PSD program and examining whether and the extent to which the introduction of a PSD contributed to a reduction in their prescribed medication, including opioids and medicinal marijuana.

  • Preliminary findings relay that the prescribing histories and social contexts of the veterans are extremely complex, and a reduction in medication alone may not be a valid indicator of intervention success (Dell, personal communication; Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse funded project).

Study 2021: Third study by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and funded by the Canadian Research in Substance Misuse.

It was conducted by principal Investigators Dr. Colleen Dell (Department of Sociology and School of Public Health, University of Saskatchewan) and Dr. Nathaniel Osgood, (Department of Computer Science and Community Health & Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan). It examined the impact of PSDs in the lives of veterans who problematically use opioids.

  • This study is learning from veterans living with PTSD and paired with an AUDEAMUS Service Dogs PSD about how the canine assists them with addressing their Substance Use Disorder, and specifically Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

  • Examined is both the human-animal bond (bio-psycho- social- spiritual) and the therapeutic intervention tasks the service dogs are trained in to address the veterans’ PTSD and its relation to their mental health and wellness, and specifically OUD and other problematic substance use. 

Presentation: 2017 International Working Dog Conference Presentation
Presented Findings
  • The findings shared broaden the concept of service dogs from being solely a ‘device’ to a combination of a therapeutic intervention, a form of supportive companionship, a social lubricant, and a motivator for caretaking. This supports the need for innovative, holistic, non-stigmatizing, and therapeutic approaches to respond to the needs of persons traumatized in the line of duty and who problematically use licit and illicit psychoactive substances (Dell, 2017).

Study 2021-2022: Alexandria Pavelich Research on the Importance of Mattering in Veteran Suicide Risk, University of Saskatchewan

Alexandria Pavelich conducted a research study with AUDEAMUS partners where the focus was on Veteran suicide risk using a qualitative interviewing to discover how the unique social support system enabled by working alongside a service dog can increase feelings of “mattering.” Mattering is a validated construct that can help reduce feelings commonly associated with suicidality such as depression, loneliness, and hopelessness; the Veterans in the study indicated that mattering was a concept that strongly resonated with them.

  • The study showed that feelings of mattering can exist between a human and animal, and the Veterans reported that the relationship they had with their service dog was a direct catalyst in reducing self-harm and suicidality.

Project 2018-Present: Dr. Linzi Williamson, PhD, CE research “Supporting Canadian Veterans with Service Dogs”, University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Williamson worked with Dr. Colleen Dell and the Office of One Health and Wellness since 2018 examining the effects of Service Dogs on Veterans with PTSD who problematically use substances. Dr. Williamson has co-authored several conference presentations, posters, and peer-reviewed manuscripts resulting from her research with Dr. Dell, and was a 2019 recipient of the Paul Fox Memorial Educational Fund through AUDEAMUS, Inc. In March 2020, Dr. Williamson was awarded 3-years of funding to continue researching the role of Service Dogs in the lives of Canadian Veterans.

Project Goal
  • Specifically, her current project aims to understand the role of various forms of stigma for Canadian Veterans with PTSD and determine methods for better supporting the integration of SDs into their lives. You can read more about Dr. Williamson’s research at

Importance of Multi Module and Holistic Learning
in Aiding Veterans With Brain Injuries
Multi-module Programming
  • Research gave direction to learning approaches adapted to the program by examining the effectiveness of in person and online learning methods to develop the present program

  • The Audeamus Service Dogs program learned that the development of a multi module learning approach is key to working with brain injuries and that measurable outcomes are key to a program wanting to better the lives of veterans and first responders.

  •  Audeamus Service Dogs is committed to research and research based approached, believing this is the key to understanding different learning approaches, needs of the injured person with a service dog, and most important proving that a program is a viable “real “ approach to improving the life of a brain injured person through the use of a service dog.

Hero’s Companion Service Dog Program (Ukraine 2015-2017)

Hero’s Companion is a not-for-profit program that aims to pair high quality trained PSD with veterans of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian volunteer battalions who struggle with PTSD and related injuries. Chris Lohnes became involved with Ukrainian Service Dog program with Hero’s Companion in 2015 and three missions followed in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Program Outcomes
  • Using the understanding from the research Chris was able to work with the Ukrainian team teams to develop a program unique to the Ukrainian culture. This required change to the whole service dog approach; winning over the trainers, handlers, medical doctors/ psychologists, hospitals that were treating the injured veterans. All with a lack of understanding of what a dog can do to support the veterans and the approaches that we were presenting.

  • In its initial deployment to the Ukraine in 2015, AUDEAMUS assisted with establishing the program curriculum, interviewed, and developed trainers and handling teams and determined that a blended therapy/service dog program was the only avenue to begin the education of the Psychologist, medical doctors, hospitals and military active and retired. A key element to the service/therapy dog training was being able to “read” the body language of the veteran involved and change, slow down or just provide time for the veteran to “open up” particularly when a language barrier existed.

  • Returning in 2016 and 2017, the focus was on training the Ukrainian service dog trainers. This involved and working and training in a hospital for not only exposure of the teams but more importantly hands on work with veterans being treated. This also demonstrated to doctors the positive impact a trained dog can provide to support their medical efforts.

  • Chris with two service dogs in training sat with a veteran who was very “closed up” : crossed legs, crossed arms, head down not attempting to speak communicate or have any contact with Chris. After two hours he reached over and took one of the leashes and began petting the dog, he began to open up; his legs opened up, his arms became uncrossed, and his head was up. Chris had similar encounters observing the power of connection with a service dog including the dog opening a space of connection with the trainer and suicide prevention

  •  The power of the connection of a dog with a brain injured person cannot be overestimated. This has solidified in Chris’ mind, the connection-based approach as key to being Present – Safe through the contact of a service dog.

Research Fact Sheet
Online Service Dog Training Evaluation Findings
  • Online training is feasible and connection with trainer and cohort is possible in an online format, however, progress within the program may be slower compared to an in-person program due to progress frustration

  • Challenges can arise during online training including heightened self-criticism and a less immediate peer support follow-up formats

Connecting Online for Peer Support Findings
  • Understanding how to use online delivery platforms (Zoom) and introductory learning materials is important to program success

  • Knowledgeable, engaged, and empathetic facilitators who facilitate peer support are important to online learning

  • Self-care as important skill for online peer support

Insight of Service Providers and Significant Others
About the Role of Service Dogs in Veterans’ Lives and Wellness
  • Development of service dog bond aided in feelings of isolation, facilitated social interactions in counselling sessions and in spousal relationships, and improved home environment.

  •  Service dogs increase veterans’ independence by improving the Veterans’ self- confidence and public access safety.

  • Service dogs initiate routines by promoting exercise and interrupting un-healthy routines and harm reduction.

  • Service Dogs Enhance Social Engagement by allowing for more open conversations when service dogs were present.

  • Engagement in training opportunities also facilitated social interaction.

  •  Increased Awareness of the Service Dog’s Role by significant others and service providers when service dog was introduced. Suggests that continual education for both significant others and service providers on the role of the service dog is important.

Learning from Technology-Assisted Data Collection
  • Some Veterans had higher step counts during winter months, and some had less which could depend on the Veteran’s willingness to be active during winter months which may or may not be influenced by their mental wellness

  • The veteran’s wellness improved over the one-year study with their service dog

  • Veterans indicated a bond to their dog throughout the study

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