A new program teaching puppies how to assist veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has started at La Trobe University Bendigo.
Bendigo staff and students have adopted eight different dogs for 12 months, where they will be trained to become mental health assistance dogs.
“We expect that the dogs will improve the veterans’ sleep quality, as well as confidence to socialise with others in their community and engage in everyday life,” lead researcher Dr Tiffani Howell said.
“It is important that the dogs get used to all kinds of people and environments, to ensure that they are comfortable in a wide range of settings,” she said.
The Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia (CSTDA) have selected the puppies and will closely monitor the progress of them and their trainers.
“We are already working closely with veterans, consulting them on their needs, and with the CSTDA to ensure the dog training program responds to those needs,” Dr Howell said.
Fourth-year pharmacy student Sarah Postlethwaite has adopted 14-month-old black Labrador Sophie for the next year.
"I really love dogs and it was a great chance to play with a puppy for a year," Ms Postlethwaite said.
"I also liked that it was a great cause and I was really happy to volunteer my time to makes the dogs more accessible for veterans."
The training will include a couple of sessions a week at the university where the dogs will learn to adjust to different situations.
"I'll be socialising her and just taking her around on busses and places like my classes, the library and shopping centres," Ms Postlethwaite said.
"It's nothing like I've ever done before," she said. "But it's a great program for students to get involved with."
First-year criminology student Braithe Bowen has adopted Sophie's sister Amelia.
"The main reason I joined was because I want to eventually join the police force and work with the dog squad," he said.
"I also love dogs but I will have to move back to Melbourne eventually so having Amelia for one year is perfect."
The Australian Government is funding the pilot project, which is led by La Trobe's School of Psychology and Public Health.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is overseeing the trial. A team of experts in dog training, the human-dog relationship, risk management, PTSD, and veteran mental health issues are also assisting.
The program is expected to be rolled out at La Trobe’s Melbourne campus later this year.
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