Chocolate labrador military working dog with his trainer.Throughout the centuries, dogs have shared not only the comforts of mens’ homes, but also the danger of combat. The lineage of today’s modern military working dogs extends back through time to the ancient peoples of Persia and Assyria. Chainmail-clad dogs marched alongside the Roman Legions through the Middle East, and Mastiffs helped ancient Britons to battle Caesar’s invading armies in 55 BC.

Ironically, the United States military didn’t even consider the ancient tradition of the war dog until the dark days after Pearl Harbor. In the tense days prior to the outbreak of World War II, many influential dog breeders had formed organizations to encourage the employment of military dogs. And soon after the Japanese attack in December of 1941, the American Kennel Club helped to found a new group called “Dogs for Defense.”

But the would-be war dogs of the first K-9 corps were not bred by the US military. Instead these dogs were in fact volunteers, like many of their civilian counterparts. Under the “Dogs for Defense” program, patriotic families from all over the country donated their pets to the armed services to be trained for combat. And in March of 1942, the US Quartermaster Corps began a formal training program to indoctrinate these new recruits into army life.

Only certain breeds were actively “recruited” for army service, including German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies, and Giant Schnauzers. And while it was initially thought that only 200 dogs would be required, more than 19,000 dogs were actually procured for active duty service (though about half of these were rejected as “untrainable”).

Along with qualified civilian trainers, the army worked to create a cadre of war dogs for specific duties in the field. Dogs were trained as sentries, to guard perimeters and alert their trainers by growling or barking when intruders neared. Patrol dogs worked quietly to locate snipers or possible enemy ambushes. Message dogs were among the most highly trained and loyal, and would run messages quietly between two handlers. Finally there were the Mine dogs or “M-dogs,” which worked to find booby traps and landmines.

Soldiers who worked closely with these dogs in combat came to love and rely on their animals. There were many instances of dogs saving their handler’s lives. One war dog named Chips was even responsible for forcing the surrender of a German pillbox, and was subsequently awarded the Silver Star.

After the success of these canine warriors in both the European and Pacific theaters, the war dog program was made a permanent fixture of the US military. Dogs once again went to war in both the Korea and Vietnam conflicts. And once again, their handlers appreciated their incredible ability to serve and save men’s lives by their actions. But unlike the war dogs that served in World War II, which were ultimately returned to their civilian families at the end of the war, the dogs that served in Vietnam were often left behind in-country after the conflict. As one heart-broken handler put it, “they were treated like obsolete equipment.”

The tradition of war dogs serving alongside US soldiers in combat continued to have success in the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for their ability to detect IEDs and other booby traps. Today, these dogs even serve in elite special ops units; a four-legged warrior accompanied Seal Team Six on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden – proof that man’s best friend will continue to be by his side in peace as well as in war.

Authored by: Ray Allen Manufacturing / K9Handler Team
Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Foter / CC BY




You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment