The university and DVA will conduct a $2 million trial of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assistance dogs for veterans as a supplement to clinical treatment.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester, who announced the partnership, said La Trobe was well placed to carry out the research.
"I am pleased to announce that DVA has engaged La Trobe University, in partnership with the Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, to undertake the trial of assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD as a supplement to clinical treatment," Minister Chester said.
"La Trobe is a leader in research involving our best friend and is the home to Australia’s first dedicated human-dog interaction laboratory. Dogs are great company, good fun, loyal friends and anyone who has had a dog knows they can be incredibly beneficial for your wellbeing.
"The trial will be a considered process that takes into account the specific needs of the participating veteran - such as determining the most appropriate breed and temperament of dog, and the bonding process between the dog and participant."
Minister Chester said work would commence on the detailed design phase of the trial, including the process for veteran recruitment. Selection of participants will commence early in 2019, with dog or puppy selection taking place after that.
"Following the matching and suitability process, there will be a period of approximately 18 months for the initial dog training and the bonding process, prior to the placement of the dog with the participant on a permanent basis. It is expected that up to 20 participants will take part in the trial," he said.
"Unlike pet or companion dogs, assistance dogs are specially trained to perform ‘tasks’ that contribute to the clinical recovery goals of the individual. The assistance dog will be integrated as part of a clinical care plan involving the veteran and their mental health clinician.
"Of course, throughout this trial, the welfare and safety of the veterans and of the dogs will be paramount."
La Trobe deputy vice-chancellor Professor Keith Nugent said that the University, in consultation with DVA, veteran mental health and industry experts, will establish and apply best practice protocols to guide the training, selection and monitoring of participants and assistance dogs.
"This world-first approach to assisting people with PTSD will see our researchers working alongside industry experts in assistance-dog training. Our students and staff will also play an integral role in this process. We expect this project to make a meaningful difference to the lives of our veterans," Professor Nugent said.
Minister Chester said the design of the assistance dog trial will comprise strong participation of veterans.
"This trial involving DVA and La Trobe University will include consultation and the active participation of veterans through the design and delivery of this program," he said.
"We are putting veterans and their families at the centre of everything we do, and this trial is an important tool in our efforts to support those who have served our nation in uniform."