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Military dogs, like their human soldiers, can return home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And why are we surprised? The dogs are asked to locate mines, improvised explosives, search structures and even to assist in the capture of terrorists like Bin Laden. They experience the noises, sights and smells of active combat which in many cases affects their behavior and personalities in the field and upon returning home.
The New York Times reported that more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 deployed military dogs are developing some form of canine PTSD. According to the Times, the number of active duty dogs has increased to 2,700, from 1,800 in 2001. Symptoms among dogs vary. Some develop hyper-vigilance, experience fear of certain places that remind them of the trauma or become uncharacteristically aggressive. Others can become withdrawn, timid or lethargic. It can become dangerous for the dogs and soldiers alike if the disorder interferes with the dog's ability to perform properly.
Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio has posted a series of videos to help train veterinarians to recognize canine PTSD. One features a dog trained to inspect the inside of a car who then refuses to go inside a bus or a building. Another "sits listlessly on a barrier wall, then after finally responding to its handler’s summons, runs away from a group of Afghan soldiers."
"Our biggest issue that we have with canines is canine PTSD," Army Lt. Col. Richard A. Vargus told the Military Times in September. "We've seen a significant issue with that because when you're standing 10 feet away from an explosion, the dog has emotions and the dog is affected as well." Vargus said that a dog experiencing fear reactions could bite its handler, run away and hide, or simply cower when its team is preparing to go on patrol. The Military Times further reported that according to United States Central Command 14 military working dogs have been killed in action, 6 have been wounded, and 3 are missing in action since May of 2010.
The treatment for dogs with PTSD can range from extra love and affection, specific training and conditioning to anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax. Some can return to work while others cannot.
Whether it is right or wrong we ask our dogs to do a lot for us. Dogs assist the disabled, patrol with police officers, search for cadavers at disaster sites and serve in the military. They are neither bulletproof nor free from fear and emotions.
Let's remember that and do something compassionate and kind for a dog today.
Article first published as Military Dogs Suffer From Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on Technorati