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.”
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.
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