Conflict & Justice

Military dogs suffer PTSD


Sgt John Barton pets his platoon's pet dog Ray-Ray as he awakens from sleeping outside at combat outpost in Afghanistan. Some military canines that work closely with soldiers to detonate bombs and track down terrorists are suffering from PTSD.


Chris Hondros

Soldiers returning from battle are not alone in their difficult readjustment to civilian life: their brave canine counterparts are also struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, The New York Times reported

Some estimates show that over 5 percent of roughly 650 million military dogs deployed by US forces suffer from PTSD. The concept of canines being affected by the mental strains of battle is a relatively new one, and is still up for debate. But the role these dogs play in the military has become increasingly important — dogs are considered the most effective means of tracking down improvised explosive devices (I.E.D's), the main cause of casualties in Afghanistan over the past three years. 

Read More on GlobalPost: First rule of Afghan War: Watch where you step 

Military canines are also responsible for helping to track down bomb-makers and terrorists, and are included in top-secret missions like the Navy SEAL raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. The number of working dogs on active duty has risen to 2,700 from 1,800 in 2001, according the New York Times. 

The issue of canine PTSD was highlighted back in 2010 with a series of profiles in The Wall Street Journal about Gunner, a yellow lab that was one of 58 bomb-sniffing dogs used by the US Marines in Afghanistan. As WSJ's Michael M. Philips reported, 

"With some Marines, PTSD can be from one terrible event, or a cumulative effect," says Maj. Rob McLellan, 33-year-old operations officer of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, who trains duck-hunting dogs back home in Green Bay, Wis. Likewise, he says, the stress sometimes "weighs a dog down to the point where the dog just snaps." Gunner snapped. 

Gunner was then adopted by a family who had lost their son, a Marine, in the Iraq War. 

PTSD is difficult to diagnose in canines, with doctors often having to make "educated guesses" about the cause of the trauma. The dogs can then be treated by being taken off-duty, given lots of exercise or counter-conditioning, and in some cases, with prescription drugs such as Xanax, Yahoo News reported