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Lead specialist of canine PTSD leaves behind legacy of healing | Mission SA

The Department of Defense's specialist on canine behavioral issues has served at Lackland Air Force Base for more than two decades.

SAN ANTONIO — The Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland is where you’ll find the lead specialist of canine PTSD for the Department of Defense. He’s helped rehabilitate our four legged heroes since 1995.

Dr. Walter Burghardt leads a team of specialists to treat military working dogs. For two decades, he’s helped a number of dogs. He’s the chief of behavioral medicine at the hospital and the lead specialist of canine PTSD for the Department of Defense. He said dogs with PTSD will exhibit abnormal behavior. They may not be doing their jobs correctly, attempting to escape, avoiding situations or acting aggressively.  

“With PTSD, we knew that when we were at the height of the operations overseas in combat, about 5 to 10 percent of the dogs were being affected with this as a problem,” Burghardt said. “We were helping out at least 50 percent of those dogs to get back into service or find a useful occupation for them otherwise.”

Burghardt said treatment is different for every dog. They utilize animal enrichment and other forms of treatment are similar to those used on humans. “That's probably going to include some kind of medication, especially if we catch this early on and the animal's in distress. It’s also going to involve animal enrichment that you may characterize as occupational and behavioral therapy,” he said.

He introduced KENS 5 to a dog named Hero, who was unable to complete training to enter in service. Animal specialist MAJ Marty G. Roache said the dog was scared and timid. But after several months of therapy five days a week, Hero transformed into a different dog. She was enthusiastic, friendly and licked our camera several times.

Roache will be taking on the responsibilities of Burghardt as the next chief of behavioral medicine. Burghardt is retiring this year. He said his job has been rewarding for the past two decades, especially when he hears feedback from the handlers or new owners.

“'Hey, this dog is doing well, living a ranch in New Braunfels,' or something like that, or, 'this dog went back to service, and here's a picture of it with a large cache of explosives they found and saved a lot of lives.' So it’s really gratifying,” said Burghardt.

Hero is up for adoption. If you would like more information, on other adoptable dogs or the foster program, email mwd.adoptions@us.af.mil.


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