With an ever increasing number of dogs’ including German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers being used as essential team members in front line combat, there has been an increased incidence of canine post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In 2001 it was reported that there were 1,800 working dogs on active duty, a number which is now reported to be around 2,700. The dogs are trained to locate Taliban fighters and bomb-makers and particularly find improvised explosive devices (IED’s) composed of fertilizer and chemicals, and containing very little or no metal they have become the biggest cause of fatalities in Afghanistan and have become near enough impossible to detect with previously used mine-sweeping instruments. The importance of working dogs on the front line has become critical and has a substantial influence on the war effort saving countless numbers of lives.
Vets have been treating dogs with behaviour problems for a number of years but the idea of canine post traumatic stress disorder has only been around for approximately the last year and a half and is still subject to discussion and disagreement within the veterinarian field.
Just like their human counterparts, many symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder seen in army dogs vary between individual. Some dogs show signs of hyper vigilance while other show avoidance behaviour and many show a marked change in temperament either becoming excessively aggressive or timid.
It has been reported that some of the dogs are being treated with anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax and medications used to treat panic attacks in humans, the questions arise over whether medications that are relatively untested in humans should be being used on dogs too.