Doggy thoughts during wartime: Canine PTSD is (apparently) fit to print.

Back in May I was forwarded an online piece about a Dr. Burghardt and his theory about “canine PTSD” and noted that PTSD conceptual bracket creep had now progressed beyond primates. Now the New York Times sees fit to report on this new canine psychopathology:

Though veterinarians have long diagnosed behavioral problems in animals, the concept of canine PTSD is only about 18 months old, having come into vogue among military veterinarians who have been seeing patterns of troubling behavior among dogs exposed to explosions, gunfire and other combat-related violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s how my canine-concerned colleagues conceptualize the disorder:

In each case, Dr. Burghardt theorizes, the dogs were using an object, vehicle or person as a “cue” for some violence they had witnessed. “If you want to put doggy thoughts into their heads,” he said, “the dog is thinking: when I see this kind of individual, things go boom, and I’m distressed.”

See? PTSD. Or maybe just good doggy thinking. Or maybe we’ve seen this before in animals and we want to give it some label that means more to us than what happens when the early behaviorists shocked rats to demonstrate conditioning. Stimulus – response. Cue – stimulus – response. Cue – response.

This is a perfect example of how previously recognized behavioral phenomena are relabeled by popular authorities as psychopathology based on recent cultural historical events. For a quick read on this phenomenon, see Ethan Waters’ Crazy Like Us. Read the New York Times piece on Canine PTSD here.


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