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Buck, the face of canine PTSD
Many people know about PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – a psychological disorder that affects humans who have been in traumatic situations, like soldiers sent to battle or an abused child. However, some may not realize that this problem can also affect dogs who have been trained for battle, fighting alongside American soldiers.
When Maria Goodavage went out to research working military dogs for her book, Soldier Dog: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes, she never believed she would end up working to put a face to canine PTSD.
Goodavage had been traveling across the country to different bases to research working dogs in the military. A stop at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas started like any other, all the dogs were going crazy, howling, barking and jumping around from the excitement of having new visitors. She looked at each dog with an escort and when they came to Buck, a chocolate Labrador retriever, she noticed something very strange.
"He was curled up in a tight ball toward the back of his kennel," Goodavage said. "He appeared to be the only normal, calm one among these super energetic dogs. But there was something about his eyes, his demeanor, that seemed almost sad. He didn't lift his head; he just looked at me unblinkingly and then stared out again, eyes not seeming to focus on anything much."
Godavage was very interested in Buck's story and when she asked the escort about him, she was informed that he had been in Afghanistan, working as a Marine IED detector dog.
The escort explained his strange behavior telling her, "He heard one too many explosions."
During his service, he started to experience canine PTSD and after responding poorly to treatments, he was forced to retire. The escort informed her that he was going to be adopted to a loving family just a day later.
Since then, Goodavage, along with Buck's new owners Larry and Lynette Sargent, have been working to help spread news of the condition, using Buck as the poster child.
According to Dogster.com, clinical signs of canine PTSD include an increased startle response, attempts to run away or escape, a change in attitude and problems performing tasks. For example, a bomb-sniffing dog with canine PTSD may no longer accurately find bombs on missions.
Breeds like Labs and golden retrievers seem to be more likely to develop the condition over seasoned war dogs like German Shepherds and Belgian Malionises. Dogs that suffer from this condition within the military get started on therapies designed to help them. Many are prescribed pet meds for anxiety and depression like Fluoxetine or Amitriptyline to curb stress, while other therapies work to desensitize dogs who have developed fears, such as a fear of loud noises.
Walter Burghardt, chief of behavioral medicine at the animal hospital on Lackland Air Force Base reports that 25 percent of canines who develop PTSD will not return to work after treatments.
Owners of a retired military working dogs will want to shower them with love and affection, getting them comfortable pet supplies like a Deluxe Orthopedic Dog Bed and plenty of treats like Greenies for Dogs or Sweet Potato Rawhide.