Dogs on devoted duty for vets with PTSD

Dogs are being trained to assist veterans with PTSD. (Photo: bectownsend, Pixabay)

University educated pups are putting their best paws forward to help Australian veterans to help them wake from wartime nightmares.

Soldiers and ex-soldiers in Australia are dying at their own hands as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dogs are being trained to help the nation’s heroes in a project carried out by La Trobe University in Melbourne and the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia.

The centre is  training 20 service dogs to help veterans lead a normal life. La Trobe University is conducting the research for the project, which is funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs., while the centre is raising and training the dogs.

Most veterans suffering from PTSD feel uncomfortable in large crowds so they tend not to leave the comfort of their houses. They often feel anxious and are at risk of having panic attacks in crowds. The dogs are trained to match the personality of the veteran and are able to identify when someone is having a panic attack. If they are having a nightmare, the dog is trained to wake them up.

“The dog is going to be trained specifically for that person. So if someone is out and having a panic attack, they can pick up on those signs and physically calm them down. If the dog knows that the person is uncomfortable in a certain situation, they’ll lead them away,” says Claire Fitz-Patrick.

Dr Tiffany Howell, the lead research fellow on the project, said: “What we are aiming for is to empower the veterans and improve their quality of life and to do the things they would like to do. For example, maybe somebody would like to be able to go to the shopping center … but they don’t feel like they can do that.”

The puppies are raised in households of staff and students from La Trobe.

During the first year of their lives, they learn basic social skills. Dr Howell said the dogs were taught to to be a “good canine citizen” during this phase. After they turned a year old, they were matched to a veteran and trained according to their needs.

If you need help or want to talk to someone call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.