NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – They are the dogs of war… literally. Most dogs used by our U.S. military are born, bred and trained here in Texas at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
For the dogs, training is perceived as fun and games, tied to a reward. For military members, it can be life or death.
“We’re not always going to be able to crack open a door and go in, so a dog has to be able to hit it,” says Jeff Justice, master trainer. “ Even the faintest odor coming through the crack of a door seam.”
Sensitive to smell, a huge factor in becoming a war dog.
Dogs used in combat zones can smell people in buildings, then can whiff enemy fighters. But most importantly, they can sniff out bombs.
“I’ve been to Iraq with a dog,” says Sgt. Joseph Hull, military working dogs adoption coordinator. “ I’ve been on Secret Service missions protecting the president and the vice president with a dog. And the job these dogs do is irreplaceable by any other type of explosion detection capability.”
From dogs that patrol to the dog that took part in the mission to take out Osama Bin Laden, the dogs that make it at Lackland, will be exposed to explosions, helicopters, gunfire and chaotic situations. In recent years, those who train the war dogs have discovered a dog’s life in the combat zone can lead to some very human-like problems.
“As it is right now, what we’re calling canine PTSD. Fifty-percent are going to be able to go back to active service,” says Dr. Walter Burghardt, Chief of Behavioral Medicine, Holland Military Working Dog Hospital.
Dr. Walter Burghardt, a veterinarian with the Holland Military Working dog Hospital at Lackland, first started diagnosing war dogs with canine PTSD in 2007. It’s new and it’s not the same as human PTSD, but the symptoms are similar.
“Let’s say they’re doing a detection test, they’re missing stuff they normally wouldn’t miss, they’re making mistakes they just wouldn’t make,” says Dr. Burghardt.
He says if the handler is suffering from PTSD, he believes it can go down the leash to dog, but he’s not sure if it’s true the other way around. Once a dog is diagnosed, treatment involves weeks of desensitization, retraining and even anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax.
Less than 100 dogs a year are born at the base. At two months they go to volunteer foster homes. At seven months, it’s back to begin training. Those that meet the strict qualifications move on. Those that don’t are offered up to police departments or privately adopted. Each one, carrying significant meaning, to those who’ve watched them grow since the day they were born.
“The puppies have a great deal of meaning for us,” says Dr. Stewart Hilliard, Lackland AFB Breeding Program Manager. “Each one of these puppies represent the potential for a military asset that will go overseas and keep our people safe.”
Only about five percent of all the dogs sent into active duty have been diagnosed with canine PTSD. All the dogs that don’t make it are adopted. They do not euthanize at Lackland.
By the end of the summer Lackland will be home to the U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument.
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