Very Good Dogs In Trial For Army Veterans With PTSD

Up to 20 percent of defence force members may develop PTSD in their lives.

Assistance dogs will be supplied to military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as part of a $2 million trial program from La Trobe University and the federal government.

A very good dog called Tassie met Darren Chester, the minister for veterans affairs, at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday to officially announce the program.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will team with La Trobe University to select participants and dogs from early 2019. A study published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2014 found the risk of suicide for young male army veterans was twice that of other men their age, and increasing spotlight has been shone on the mental health of veterans exposed to traumatic situations.

A 2010 Australian Defence Force study estimated 90 percent of members had experienced at least one traumatic event in their life, above the 73 percent of the wider population. It is estimated that more than eight percent of ADF members experienced PTSD each year, according to the defence department, while up to 20 percent of members may develop PTSD in their lives.

Tassie, in Canberra on Wednesday (supplied)

"This world-first approach to assisting people with PTSD will see our researchers working alongside industry experts in assistance-dog training," said La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Keith Nugent of the assistance dog study.

"Our students and staff will also play an integral role in this process. We expect this project to make a meaningful difference to the lives of our veterans."

Chester said the trial would investigate how assistance dogs would supplement clinical treatment for PTSD, with up 20 people involved in the trial.

"La Trobe is a leader in research involving our best friend and is the home to Australia’s first dedicated human-dog interaction laboratory. Dogs are great company, good fun, loyal friends and anyone who has had a dog knows they can be incredibly beneficial for your wellbeing," he said.

"The trial will be a considered process that takes into account the specific needs of the participating veteran - such as determining the most appropriate breed and temperament of dog, and the bonding process between the dog and participant."


Chester said the trial would continue for at least a few years, with a year-and-a-half of training and bonding before the dogs are placed permanently with their new owner.

“Following the matching and suitability process, there will be a period of approximately 18 months for the initial dog training and the bonding process, prior to the placement of the dog with the participant on a permanent basis. It is expected that up to 20 participants will take part in the trial,” he said.

“Unlike pet or companion dogs, assistance dogs are specially trained to perform ‘tasks’ that contribute to the clinical recovery goals of the individual. The assistance dog will be integrated as part of a clinical care plan involving the veteran and their mental health clinician."