Guest post by Maya Szydlowski
Dogs of all breeds have been used in combat since the beginning of ancient times. Several breeds, in fact, originated due to the needs of war including some of our favorite gentile giants like the Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. Whether they were toted around for companionship or used on the frontlines, there is no denying how important canines have been to soldiers for centuries.
Although hundreds of dogs remain on patrol and watch in and around several U.S. military bases, in recent decades, the relationship between the dog and the soldier has evolved. While dogs — in particular German and Dutch Shepards and Belgian Malinois, many originating from the Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Program — are still used for bomb sniffing and search and rescue endeavors in combat zones, they are hardly used as messengers and combat weapons like they once were. The Military Working Dog Program still trains hundreds of dogs for military protection and detection of bombs and other harmful substances, with an estimated 2,300 dogs that are currently on duty throughout the world. However, now in conjunction with their wartime service, dogs are also being used to help soldiers recover from the wounds of war – both physically and mentally.
The VA regularly provides service dogs to veterans suffering from loss of vision and those confined to a wheelchair, and new research has proven that canine counterparts are also a great way for soldiers to recover from PTSD – a crippling mental and emotional condition caused by the hardships of war. The dogs, sometimes former soldiers themselves, are able to provide the unconditional support needed to soldiers suffering from PTSD, with many reporting that their dog just seems to “know” when they need extra care or are having a flashback or bad dream.
Dogs that face combat, much like their human counterparts, are often viewed as war heroes – working equally as hard with incredible endurance and determination for months at a time. However, just like a human soldier, many returning war dogs face psychological hardships such as PTSD. But PTSD doesn’t mean the end of the road for service canines. Military dogs have proven to be highly resilient, providing insight into human soldier PTSD, and many make full recoveries and are able to return to service. For those that don’t fully recover, many take residence with veterans or other like counterparts whom understand their condition. There is no doubt that dog’s won’t continue to play an integral part in soldier life. Whether standing watch, sniffing out harmful substances, or offering a warm lick when needed, the dog has earned the title of “war hero,” and should be heralded as such.
Maya Szydlowski is a community manager for Veterans United Home Loans, the nation’s top dedicated VA lender.