Retrospective Examination of Service Dog Training Program Participation and Mental Healthcare Utilization

Rebecca N. Schulz*, Kalyn C. Jannace, Elizabeth J. Hisle-Gorman, Paul F. Pasquina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To investigate the association between Service Dog Training Program (SDTP) participation and mental health care utilization. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Outpatient rehabilitation clinic at a large military treatment facility. Participants: Military Health System beneficiaries who attended at least 1 SDTP session at a large military treatment facility (N=597). SDTP program enrollment records identified participants. Intervention: The SDTP, a unique application of animal-assisted therapy, is intended to improve the mental and cognitive health for individuals with war-related trauma. Main Outcome Measures: Negative binomial regression calculated the associations between the SDTP participation rate and 2 mental health care utilization outcomes: mental health encounter days and psychotropic medication months’ supply. Results: Most of the 597 participants were male, enlisted service members, and aged 25-34 years. Approximately 46% had a posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis, 21% had a traumatic brain injury diagnosis, 47% had an opioid prescription, and 58% had a sleep aid prescription pre-SDTP participation. Participation was categorized into low (≤1 sessions), medium (>1 and ≤2 sessions), and high (>2 sessions) monthly participation. In adjusted analysis, high monthly SDTP participation was associated with 18% fewer post-SDTP mental health encounter days (rate ratio [RR], 0.82; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.68-0.96) than low monthly SDTP participation. High monthly SDTP participation was also associated with a 22% fewer post-SDTP psychotropic prescription months’ supply (RR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.64-0.95) than low monthly SDTP participation in adjusted analysis. Conclusions: Results suggest that participants who attend more than 2 SDTP sessions monthly encounter mental health care differently post SDTP than participants who attended 1 or fewer monthly sessions. Adjunct therapies, such as the SDTP, may offer patients a nonstigmatizing way to engage in mental health care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-244
Number of pages8
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal assisted therapy
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Military health
  • Mood disorders
  • Patient acceptance of health care
  • Psychotropic drugs
  • Rehabilitation
  • Service animals
  • Sleep disorders, circadian rhythm
  • Stress disorders, post-traumatic


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