War dogs suffer trauma just as soldiers

Dogs serving with the US army in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan are developing canine post-traumatic stress disorder, claims an animal behavioural specialist.

New York: Dogs serving with the US army in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan are developing canine post-traumatic stress disorder, claims an animal behavioural specialist, setting aside the notion that only the soldiers suffered such traumas after being exposed to violence.
By some estimates, more than 5 per cent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Dr Walter F Burghardt Jr. Of those, about half are likely to be retired from service, he said.

Burghardt is the chief of behavioural medicine at the Daniel E Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The doctor is among the first to recognise the condition in the dogs.

Dogs serving with the American army are developing canine PTSD, the animal behavioural specialist claimed, The New York Times has reported.

Although vets have long diagnosed behavioural problems in animals, the concept of canine PTSD is only about 18 months old, and is still the subject of debate.

But it has gained popularity among military veterinarians, who have been seeing patterns of troubling behaviour among dogs exposed to explosions, gunfire and other combat related violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the daily said.

Like humans with the disorder, different dogs show different symptoms. Some become hyper-vigilant. Others avoid buildings or work areas that they had previously been comfortable in, it said.

The report added that some undergo sharp changes in temperament, becoming unusually aggressive with their handlers, or clingy and timid. Most crucially, many stop doing the tasks they were trained to perform.

"If the dog is trained to find improvised explosives and it looks like it`s working, but isn`t, it`s not just the dog that’s at risk," Dr Burghardt was quoted as saying by the daily. "This is a human health issue as well".

The war dogs have become an important tool in the fight against Talibans and other terrorists groups besides counter-insurgency operations.

The trains dogs literally come across as fighting force on four legs that is able to parachute into combat, rappel into action and swim into a skirmish or an ambush.

Back in India, the dogs have played a crucial role in counter-insurgency operations as well as against the Maoists.

Indian security forces have recently deployed `Belgian Malinois` for infantry patrols in Naxal hotbeds of the country to help troops detect early warning of a possible ambush or
hidden explosives.

While breeds like German Shepherds, Labradors and Cocker Spaniels have been used for a long time in battle-like situations, Belgian Malinois are now gaining popularity.

Even the elite unit of US Navy Seals, that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, had a specially trained explosives-sniffing dog for the surgical strike.


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