The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : More Than 2,000 Military Dogs Serve Around the World - At Any Time, as Much as 10% of All Military Dogs Show Signs of Canine PTSD

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More Than 2,000 Military Dogs Serve Around the World - At Any Time, as Much as 10% of All Military Dogs Show Signs of Canine PTSD

It's not just humans who serve in our military. More than 2,000 military dogs serve around the world, and just like their human counterparts, they can suffer emotional scars from their service. At any time, as much as 10% of all military dogs show signs of canine PTSD. The only veterinarian who specializes in treating them is right here in San Antonio.



Military working dog Champ loves his job. Each time he finds a source, something that in the real world might be a bomb or drugs, he gets paid.

 "When he's looking for the order, he doesn't know he's looking for the order. He thinks he's looking for his reward. So when he does come in contact with the source, he thinks the source is paying him," said Master at Arms, Second Class, Alejandro Abreu.

Abreu is finally where he wants to be. After serving in the navy for seven years, he is now training at Lackland Air Force Base to be a military working dog handler.

 "I can't wait to be a part of the fleet and actually do this for real," said Abreu.

 "There's nothing like that bond between a military working dog handler and his dog," explained Master Sergeant Andre Brooks, who oversees the training.

Both handlers and their canine counterparts go through training before heading out to serve together. Brooks knows firsthand what it's like; he's been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, working with a canine companion.

"If they're trying to plant explosives, most likely the dog's going to give us that early warning capability to let us know that there's something there, something going on," said Brooks.

Just like humans, military dogs can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which means Dr. Walter Burghardt is in high demand. He is the only one of his kind in the US military.

Holland Veterinary Hospital at Lackland AFB is the only level three care facility for military animals. Burghardt is the chief of behavioral military working dogs studies.

"The impression that a lot of people get, you know, we sit there on a couch with a pad and ask them questions, trying to make sense of a dog's sounds and grunts and whines. And that's not it at all. We really are working on a behavioral level. Observable things that we can see," says Burghardt.

Suddenly, a military working dog that had previously worked really well may now show problems.

"An unwillingness or an inability to do the work they'd been trained to do. So sometimes it was pretty apparent, they just shut down and wouldn't do what they needed to do," said Burdgardt.

His work is through behavioral modifications, like training type activities. But there are times when even that doesn't work.

"If a problem is so intense that we're really not able to do the behavioral work that we'd like to do, we may need to use medication," said Burghardt.

It's hard to really say what causes canine PTSD, but Burghardt says he thinks it happens when dogs are pushed beyond their training.

"Remember, we train the dogs to do what they do, so we train them in a variety of settings and if we go too far afield, just like potentially we can go too far afield with a person in their competencies, we start breaking down a little bit," said Burghardt.

At the end of the day, every person who works with these dogs, from the handlers to the vets, strives to provide them with the best care available.

"It is a joy to come to work every day. It really is. Knowing that this is the place where we can do the very best for the dogs that are doing the very best for us," said Burghardt.

"He's out there working for me, and I want to do as much as I can to work for him," said Abreu.

"These dogs, they're not equipment or they're not just something that you get issued. They're our partners. They're like family," added Brooks.

For information on fostering a military working dog, click HERE! 

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