The puppies are spending the next 12 months at the Bundoora campus training to become mental health assistance dogs, with support from staff and students who have volunteered as puppy raisers and socialisers.
The launch of the training program in Bundoora marks the second phase of a four-year, $2 million project funded by the Australian government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, successfully introduced at the La Trobe Bendigo campus with eight puppies in March 2019.
Lead researcher, Dr Tiffani Howell from La Trobe’s School of Psychology and Public Health, said raisers and socialisers are sharing the training and care duties for the puppies they’ve been carefully matched with.
“Our raisers have full-time responsibility for the puppies and their training needs, adopting them into their homes and taking them to their workplaces or university lectures and classes,” Dr Howell said.
“Training a puppy to become a working dog is a big job. It requires a lot of time and patience.
“For this reason, we have a great group of puppy socialisers who take it in turns to expose the puppies to all kinds of people and environments for up to five hours a week, giving the raisers a small break from their vital role in this research project.”
Dr Howell said the puppies and their volunteer companions attend a training session at the Bundoora Campus once a week, which is led by project partners from the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia (CSTDA).
“The puppies are first taught how to be friendly and feel safe and confident when introduced to new environments or people,” Dr Howell said.
“Depending on which veteran they are paired with, we will then teach the puppies how to reduce the symptoms of PTSD in their owners – including nightmares and flashbacks.”
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs will oversee the trial, along with a team of experts in dog training, the human-dog relationship, risk management, PTSD, and veteran mental health issues.
Minister for Veterans Affairs' Darren Chester said the said the Government is committed to putting veterans and their families first.
“The results of the trial so far have been extremely positive in supporting what veterans have been telling me for some time – assistance dogs change lives and they save lives,” Minister Chester said.
“The provision of assistance dogs to veterans with PTSD is one part of the work we are doing ensuring our veterans have the support they need, when and where they need it.
“There is emerging evidence from around the world that supports the use of assistance dogs in treating PTSD and this trial is building on this.”
La Trobe is searching for more volunteer raisers and socialisers, with more puppies expected to start their training at La Trobe’s Bundoora and Bendigo Campuses in early 2020.
Media contact: Dragana Mrkaja - 0447 508 171 - firstname.lastname@example.org