Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Military Dog with PTSD

A highly-trained bomb-sniffing dog is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gina was a playful two-year-old German shepherd when she was posted to Iraq to carry out door-to-door searches for explosive devices.

But when she returned home she would refuse to enter rooms and once inside would tuck her tail between her legs, slink along the floor and hide under furniture to avoid people.
A military veterinarian diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that experts say can afflict dogs as much as humans.

Master Sergeant Eric Haynes, kennel master at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, U.S., said: 'She was terrified of everybody and it was obviously a condition that led her down that road.

'She showed all the symptoms and she had all the signs.'

Gina had been assigned to an Army unit and her job was to search for explosives after soldiers entered a house.

Soldiers would sometimes use noisy, blinding stun grenades and kick down doors during operations and Gina was once in a convoy when another vehicle was hit by an improvised bomb.

But a year later she is on the mend. Frequent walks among friendly people and a gradual reintroduction to the noises of military life have begun to overcome her fears.

U.S. vet Nicholas Dodman said: 'There is a condition in dogs which is almost precisely the same, if not precisely the same, as PTSD in humans.

'It's a fact that fears once learned are never unlearned.

'The best thing you can do is apply new learning, which is what (Gina's handlers are) doing.'

Post-traumatic stress disorder is well-documented among soldiers returning from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, but its existence in animals is less clear-cut.

Victims repeatedly re-experience the trauma in nightmares or vivid memories, avoid situations or feelings that remind them of the event and feel on-edge.

MSgt Haynes said that handlers coaxed Gina into buildings by sending people ahead of her during walks to pass out treats for bystanders and stationing someone she knew behind doors to encourage to go through them.

He said: 'She started learning that everyone wasn't trying to get her.

'She began acting more social again.'

Gina has resumed some of her duties, searching for explosives in cars at Peterson Air Force Base. She may return to the front line, but not for at least a year.

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