Post-traumatic stress disorder acknowledged in military dogs

While dogs are increasingly being employed to help returning veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it appears that many returning military dogs can use some help as well.

Dog trainers and specialists at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas who observed marked behavioral changes in dogs returning from war zones have acknowledged that military dogs can suffer from PTSD, according to the Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times tells the story of Cora, a 5-year-old dog who returned from months of detecting explosives in Iraq with PTSD symptoms similar to those found in humans. She went from a friendly, independent dog who followed orders well to an easily startled dog who lashed out at other dogs, required constant attention, and sometimes refused to follow commands.

Cora and up to 10 percent of other military dogs are prone to developing the same PTSD symptoms, according to the Times. They return home with frayed nerves due to their stressful experiences such as being around loud noises and sensing the fear and anxiety of their human counterparts.

With more dogs receiving special training and being deployed in military zones, the military is dedicating increased resources toward alleviating the signs and symptoms of PTSD in returning dogs.

Part of the military’s approach involves gradually exposing dogs to the things they fear or dislike.

“It's really counter-conditioning,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Charles Rudy, instructor supervisor at Lackland’s dog training school. “You find out what the dog doesn't enjoy and then find what will overpower that.”

Besides counter-conditioning, the military is also focusing on retraining, removing stress from retired dogs’ lives, and sometimes giving dogs medications such as Xanax.

According to the Times, up to half of returning military dogs with PTSD are simply too traumatized to keep working and will be retired. The remaining dogs will be retrained for further work with military or law enforcement organizations.

Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times