It’s not just two-legged members of the military who can suffer the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — military dogs are susceptible as well.
The title character of the new movie “Max” (affiliate link) — which Esquire is calling “Hollywood’s dog version of ‘American Sniper'” — is a Belgian Malinois who’s been traumatized by the death of his handler, U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott, who was killed in Afghanistan.
Max is adopted by Wincott’s family and bonds with his teenage brother as they both cope with their loss.
At least 10 percent of military dogs suffer canine PTSD, according to Walter Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine and military working-dog studies at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Dogs and their handlers are trained for all military branches at Lackland, which also has a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital that treats military and police dogs.
Canine PTSD was first recognized as a combat affliction in 2009.
The dogs are “essentially broken and can’t work,” Burghardt told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.
As with humans, the symptoms of canine PTSD vary. Dogs may be afraid of the dark or loud noises, or their temperaments may drastically change. Most of the dogs refuse to perform the tasks they were trained to do.
The treatment for canine PTSD is similar to that for humans. It includes counterconditioning and, sometimes, anti-anxiety medication.
Burghardt estimated that about half the dogs with PTSD can be retrained for “useful employment,” while the other half — like Max — are retired from the military and can be adopted as family pets.
This is a huge improvement since the 1970s, when hundreds of military dogs who served in Vietnam were considered “equipment” and abandoned there when the war ended.
“Max” was directed and co-written by Boaz Yakin (“Remember The Titans”) and stars Josh Wiggins, Robbie Arnell, Thomas Haden Church and Lauren Graham. It’s coming to a theater near you June 26.
The official trailer was released this week. Grab a tissue or three, and take a look. (The heartbreaking scene at the marine’s funeral is likely based on this real-life incident.)
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