Military Dogs Experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Study says one in ten dogs that go to war develop PTSD
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON - On any given day you will find more than a dozen military working dogs on JBER -- dogs that are more frequently developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The number of dogs who go to war that develop PTSD is unknown, but the US military is just starting to research it. But an expert at Lackland Air Force Base estimates about 10 percent of all dogs deployed develop the condition.
According to dog handlers, the dogs experience all of the same things that their human partners do -- loss, explosions and stress.
“That’s a good boy,” said Sergeant Maatta, as he inspects his partner of just over a month. “How ya doing buddy?”
Maatta is training his new best friend. Sandor is also his comrade in arms. This isn’t his first military working dog. Since he’s arrived at JBER, in 2009, he has rotated through five dogs.
In June of last year, he got deployed with a dog he knows as MDW-Con.
“Dogs develop their own problems, like MDW-Con. If he heard anything go off, the first thing he would do was start sniffing around and go to work because that’s what he was used to doing -- even if we were inside our room.”
When a handler is deployed he is with his dog every day and every night. Experts said that MDW-Con’s symptoms are symptoms of PTSD.
“There isn’t a moment that we are apart,” said Maatta. “So that is the dog's safe zone, it’s their home. When loud noises would go off the dog was in conflict because he’s not working.”
He said it’s hard to know when they’re off duty.
Though MDW-Con has PTSD, the military needed him. He was redeployed and Maatta got a new partner.
“Letting go of a dog, I have seen following handlers have issues because the dog just isn’t used to the new dad, the new guy in charge holding the leash."
Since the nation went to war more than a decade ago, JBER has not lost a dog in combat -- only handlers, like Air Force Technical Sergeant Jason Norton.
“The vehicle he was riding in was struck by an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] and he was killed along with his entire crew,” said Maatta pointing to a monument on the wall that pictures Norton and a regal German Shepard wrapped up in his arms.
Norton was killed in Iraq in 2006. He left his best friend and partner behind.
“Some dogs are resilient, they can press on. Some, especially if it’s a team that’s been paired together for years... that’s a very strong bond that’s hard to break.”
Shortly after Norton’s death, his dog died of natural causes.
As for Maatta, his relationship with Sandor may be new, but the bond is already strong.
“The only dog I step in to do something fun with is my dog.”
As for treating the working dogs, military dog experts said some will need to be retrained and conditioned. Some may be prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
But, just like many soldiers, most won’t be able to make a full recovery.