Is canine PTSD really a thing? We had to do some research.
If you're reading this in SW Utah we can bet you have already heard about the recent incident of a K9 officer being shot in the face while in the line of duty. In case you haven't: K9 Tess survived her injuries thanks to quick action and emergency surgery after being life-flighted to Las Vegas. She is now recovering with partner/ handler Officer Graf. To learn more about the Tess we recommend watching a video put together by one of our mission partners, Bone Appetit.
Washington County Sheriff's Department K9, Tess, in recovery
after life-saving surgery was performed. Trauma to her head and
neck occurred when she was shot in the face while entering a
vehicle to aid officers with a suspect.
Bernie Green is a supervisor with the Department of Defense's Military Working Dog Breeding Program. Experts say dogs can suffer from PTSD-like conditions that can affect their military capabilities later on.
Since the incident BAM reps have been repeatedly asked if there are any updates on Tess and what happens to working dogs who go through such horrible trauma on the job. Being dog lovers it is natural to question what is next for Tess and similarly injured dogs. So we did a little research.
Though the science on canine trauma is relatively new, there is research being done and a growing understanding of what can best be understood as "Canine PTSD". Most of the research is being done with combat dogs, though similar findings take place with search and rescue dogs, those in bomb detection, and, of course, police dogs. Luckily it is rare for search and rescue dogs to be physically impacted, though it is tragic nonetheless. In mass devastation (floods, landslides, earthquakes, bombings, etc.) dogs who are trained to find survivors can experience extremely high stress when unable to recover people, etc. I certainly cannot imagine being placed back in the same high-stress environment I was traumatized or injured in without extensive therapy and even re-training. Anyone who has worked with or adopted a rescue dog may even be familiar with the remnants of physical or emotional trauma a dog may have gone through before being rescued. Why should working dogs be expected to be any different simply because they are trained?
So what is expected of a K9 after an injury in the line of duty?
It would seem that the answer isn't very cut and dried. Older dogs (like Tess is) who are already approaching retirement age are often retired early and not forced back into service. Some dogs, like some humans, seem to work through their trauma whether or not they are given supportive emotional and occupational therapy. The most common denominator in a successful traumatic recovery, however, seems to be maintaining the bond with their handler throughout. Some people don't realize how much co-training takes place with every new K9 unit, and may not know that the dog lives with their handler/partner thus reinforcing their partnership and trust. These bonds are extremely hard to break, so it makes sense that the healthiest way to recover a working dog from a traumatic injury or work fatigue is to maintain their partnership, no matter where the road leads.
As a pet owner (ok, self-labeled dog mom) I certainly hope that Washington County Sheriff's K9 Tess and Officer Graf (shown right, at one of Tess's many post-op appointments) get to do just that; spend their futures together whether on duty or retired!
We will be sure to share any updates when we learn more.