Dori Edwards, Global Animal
Within the past two years, it has been discovered that human soldiers are not the only beings that can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—an anxiety/mental health problem caused by experiencing a traumatic event.
Walter Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine and military working-dog studies at Lackland, the training headquarters for military dogs, estimates that ten percent of canines deported to Iraq and Afghanistan return as victims of PTSD.
According to Marine Staff Sergeant Thomas Gehring, “Dogs experience combat just like humans.”
As reported by WebMD, symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing, and heightened emotional arousal which causes irritability, anger and hyper-vigilance. There are many accounts of veteran canines with these symptoms and “dramatic behavioral disturbances,” according to the Huffington Post.
A bomb sniffing Belgian Malinois named Cora, according to the canine’s handler, was “changed” after she returned from her deployment. Similar to the German Shepherd, Gina, who contracted PTSD in 2010, “the once-independent dog hated to be alone. Loud noises made her jump, and the previously friendly canine started to growl and pick fights with other dogs,” as reported by Discovery News.
Cora, who still enjoys the occasional pat on the head, is an extremely mild case. Any dog can suffer with varying degrees of the disorder if they have experienced a traumatic event such as war, a car accident or abuse.
“This is something that does not get better without intervention,” stated Burghardt. “They’re essentially broken and can’t work.”
Some treatments for the illness include conditioning, retraining and drugs such as Xanax, which helps anxiety. Unfortunately, recovery from PTSD is only partial.
The existence of canine PTSD should make us rethink the drafting of canines for military purposes. These animals do not have a voice and they are so eager to please that in some cases, the results of their loyalty can include a lifelong battle with a debilitating disorder.
If you are guardian to an ex-military animal, have rescued an animal or your companion has experienced a hardship, be aware if they express abnormal behavior. These animals, just like their human counterparts, need help.