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War dogs suffer trauma just as soldiers

Last Updated: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 17:07

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.

PTI

First Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 17:07

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