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Military Dogs Suffering PTSD From Combat In Iraq, Afghanistan

Humans aren’t the only ones suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and being prescribed anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, after being in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dogs are.

Apparently, the concept of dog PTSD has only come into vogue in the past 18 months, and not all veterinarians agree that there even is such a thing, according to a New York Times article on the topic published Friday. The story, “The Dogs of War, Suffering Like Soldiers,” estimated that more than 5 percent of the 650 military dogs now in combat have canine PTSD.

These military dogs do tasks such as tracking down the enemy and detecting bombs. If they are not performing these tasks because of the trauma they have suffered, that puts the lives of soldiers at risk.

For example, The Times noted that these dogs are adept at finding improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs. Unlike traditonal bombs, IEDs are typically made out of chemicals and fertilizer, The Times reported, and contain little metal. When they are buried, they can’t be detected by normal mine-sweeping gear. And they are the No. 1 cause of injuries in Afghanistan. 

Dogs can be trained to find those IEDs, as well as to track the Taliban. 

According to The Times, dogs with PTSD exhibit different signs of that malady.  Some won’t go near areas where they previously had no trouble venturing. Others because aggressive, or shy. The problem is when they won’t do the jobs they have been trained to do, such as bomb sniffing.

There doesn’t seem to be any silver bullet, in terms of treatment, according to The Times. Sometimes giving a dog a rest by taking it out of duty is all it takes. Sometimes dogs are given drugs such as Xanax. In other instances, what The Times calls “desensitization counterconditioning” is used as a treatment. A dog may be exposed to a gunshot sound or an explosion far away. If the dog doesn’t have a negative reaction, it is given a reward. The canine is then moved closer to the sound, closer and closer each time the dog doesn’t seem upset by the noise, The Times reported.

If none of this seems to work, a dog will usually be sent back home.   


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