Photo: via U.S. Marine Corps
Gunner was a Marine bomb-sniffing dog, until he suddenly became so skittish, he couldn’t perform his duty.Later, they found out the dog had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Wall Street Journal’s Mike Phillips reported that Gunner’s handlers had no idea what it was the finally pushed him over the edge, the explosions around base or the gunfire on the range, but it wasn’t long before Gunner was declared, “excess” by the Marine Corps.
Phillips wrote about Gunner originally from Afghanistan, and when he did, he got a tremendous outpouring of letters asking about the dog. One of those letters came from Phillips’ close friend Deb Dunham, Marine Medal Of honour Recipient Jason Dunham’s mother, and the subject of a book by Phillips. Through their tandem effort, Gunner found a home with Dunham.
The nation’s dogs of war often come home exhibiting the same symptoms of their human counterparts. Skittish, aggressive, antisocial, jumpy — there’s a wide range of negative, psychological behaviours these dogs display due to possible trauma experienced on the battlefield.
Like humans with the analogous disorder, different dogs show different symptoms. Some become hyper-vigilant. Others avoid buildings or work areas that they had previously been comfortable in. 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.
“Canine PTSD” as doctors have called it, is about as common in dogs as in humans, which is to say that just about every dog who’s experienced combat is going to bring home some residual effects. The Military Veterinarians who talked to the Times said that of the 650 military working dogs who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, that about 5 per cent come back with symptoms of Canine PTSD.
The proportion roughly matches the percentage of troops who see what would be considered ‘heavy’ combat while they’re deployed.
Dogs, like humans, often take cues from certain sounds, or certain sites. Some dogs refuse to go into buildings, or near buses, others will be reduced to quivers at the sound of fireworks.
But also like humans, dogs can recover from PTSD, as in the story the Air Force’s Monica Mendoza covered in 2010 about a dog named Gina, who was not only cured, but sent back to duty.
Still, there are others who believe PTSD, especially in canines, cannot be cured.
Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the animal behaviour clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, told the Times, “It’s more about management. Dogs never forget.”
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