• Hannah Phillips

Assistance Dogs to Support Veteran Mental Health

A $2 million trial of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assistance dogs for veterans will be undertaken by La Trobe University in Victoria, in partnership with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and Therapy Dogs Australia.

Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Darren Chester explained the program, saying: “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.

“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.”

Mr Chester said work prior to trials will involve creating detailed design phases, including the process for veteran recruitment.

Selection of participants will commence early in 2019, with dog or puppy selection taking place after that.

“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," Mr Chester said.

It is expected that up to 20 participants will take part in the trial, to be paired with the assistance dogs, who 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.

“Of course, throughout this trial, the welfare and safety of the veterans and of the dogs will be paramount," Mr Chester added.

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Keith Nugent said that the University, in consultation with DVA, veteran mental health and industry experts, will establish and apply best practice protocols to guide the training, selection and monitoring of participants and assistance dogs.

“This world-first approach to assisting people with PTSD will see our researchers working alongside industry experts in assistance-dog training.

"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,” Professor Nugent said.

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