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Dogs Suffering Post-Traumatic Stress


Lance Corporal Tom Welstand of the U.K.’s 103rd Military Dog Squadron with Steegan

His patient had just been through a firefight and now was cowering under a cot, refusing to come out.

The patient was a dog, the doctor was Walter F. Burghardt, and the diagnosis: Post-Traumatic Stress. A story in the New York Times describes how more than 5 percent of the 650 military dogs in combat zones with American troops are developing canine PTSD. Of those, about half may have to be retired from service altogether. In all, the U.S. military has some 2,700 dogs on active duty. At Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, 500 dogs are trained every year.

The four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts.

In some cases, the dogs become aggressive, in others timid. Some try to avoid buildings they associate with the stress. Others just shut down and stop working.

Treatment is difficult, since the dogs can’t say what they’re feeling. Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says he doesn’t talk about a “cure”.

“It is more management,” he said. “Dogs never forget.”