A naval clinic has started using dogs to sniff out extreme stress in order to help sailors and marines combat suicidal depression.
According to the Department of Defense, military suicides have been continuously on the rise since 2013. But man’s best friend has been brought in to help put an end to that trend.
A naval clinic on Joint Base Andrews in Maryland has been experimenting with some amazing new strategies to help military members combat extreme stress.
Senior Chief Brad makes his daily rounds at the clinic, examining patients for signs of stress. If he senses their mood is off, he goes into action, sometimes cuddling them.
If that sounds whacky, it’s because Chief Brad is no human doctor – he is a golden retriever lab mix!
How It All Started
Chief Brad was originally trained to be a seeing-eye dog, a PTSD aid, and at this time, a stress relieving canine.
When Chief Brad senses distressing emotional patterns in a patient (such as stress, depression, or irritability), he immediately alerts his handler, Chief Bobby Long. Long is a nurse practitioner who acts to counsel the patients and determine if they need professional help.
According to Long, the way dogs can sense this seems to boil down to hormones, body language, or both.
Highly stressed individuals can emit certain pheromones, which dogs’ noses are easily attuned to picking up (unlike ours).
“It’s rare. I think most dogs have the ability to pick up, read people’s emotions better than humans do. But to get a dog that pick up on it and act on it… that’s the hard part.”
In addition, dogs are much better at reading body language than humans. This is because humans communicate using primarily by their facial expressions and words, while dogs communicate primarily by using their bodies.
So Brad is picking up on things that people tend to miss in their fellow humans.
Kim Hyde is a manager with Southeastern Guide Dogs. According to Hyde, there are currently only 29 dogs in the nation who are able to act anti-stress dogs.
Positive Impact on Negative Emotions
Captain Robert Coogan is a commanding officer at Naval Air Facility-Washington. He coordinates the well-being of about 4,000 service members at Joint Base Andrews.
Coogan sees first-hand the impact anti-stress dogs have on sailors. According to him, these dogs help service members who have just seen too much and who return with emotional damage.
According to Coogan, Chief Brad has helped hundreds of sailors on JBA. The cuddly canine not only assists with minor day-to-day interactions, but has assisted in major cases where tragic events such as deployments, accidents, or difficult family situations really hit the sailors hard.
Chief Brad and handler Long have been at this for the past two years, working at JBA and across the Washington, D.C. area.
Long points out that while it’s easy to find a dog who can pick up on people’s emotions, it’s actually extremely rare to find one that will act on it.
Long and Chief Brad also make house calls in addition to their clinical visits. This is just to be able to provide support to anyone on a base who is simply having a rough day. As anyone suffering from PTSD, depression or anxiety knows, some days can be indescribably hard.
Chief Brad doesn’t have to even do much. Navy Commander Damon Hildebrand reports that simply kneeling with the dog and rubbing his ears is enough to rejuvenate him.
Hildebrand says Chief Brad is able to lift soldiers and marines to “a higher level,” where they can heal effectively. He says that the dog being able to take their minds off stress even temporarily is enough to enable healing to occur in a healthy way.
Chief Brad helped Navy vet Luis Glinton cope when he had to involuntarily change his life from a military member to civilian. Glinton said that Chief Brad simply being around and receiving pets was enough to lift his spirits during a time when he was “an emotional wreck.”
In May, Chief Brad and his handler will be retiring, taking their services to Kosovo to do similar work.
Coogan says the emotional bond offered by anti-stress dogs is what is unique, and he looks forward to expanding this program across the Navy fleet in the future.