We all know the phrase “dogs are a man’s best friend.” For some, a dog is more than just a friend; it’s a colleague, a therapist, and a life saver. Writer Alphonse de Lamartine once said: “When man is in trouble, God sends him a dog.”
Dogs have been used in war situations for centuries, long before even gunpowder was invented. There are stories of Britain using dogs in 55BC to fight against Caeser’s invasion, and Napoleon also used dogs’ superior senses. However, the U.S. military did not start using dogs to any significant extent until 1942 – just over 70 years ago.
Dogs are used to assist human soldiers for a variety of reasons. Their senses are many times stronger than those of humans, so they are able to detect threats well in advance.
It is estimated that dogs’ noses are around 20X more sensitive than humans’. In practical terms, this makes dogs the ideal tool for tracking, detecting explosives, finding casualties, and search and rescue. Dogs can detect people up to 200 meters away by using all of their senses, even when there is no wind. Dogs used for drug detection at Customs are also trained by the military.
Although 30 different breeds have been used by the military in the past, nowadays a few breeds are preferred. Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and several varieties of Retriever are used, although the breed of choice is the German Shepherd. This is because of the breed’s intelligence, moderate aggression levels, and the fact that it’s dependable.
The Roles Dogs Play in the Military
Most military working dogs either specialize in one role (such as IED detection or narcotics detection), or they have dual purposes. However, there are several general roles which these dogs have.
- Sentry dogs are trained to guard supplies and warn their handlers of any unexpected people approaching
- Casualty dogs search for and find casualties lying in places which are difficult for rescue parties to find
- Explosives detection dogs are trained to alert their handlers to the presence of explosives. They do this by smelling out the chemicals used in explosive devices; they have worked in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the War on Terrorism.
Regardless of their breed or job, all the dogs that work for the U.S. military are trained at Lackland AFB in Texas by the 341st Military Working Dog Training Squadron.
Honoring Canine Soldiers
The United States Military Working Dog Service Award is a medal which can be awarded to dogs from any branch of the military who have been actively involved in combat. To date, 154 of these incredible animals have been decorated in this way.
Most of these military dogs work their whole lives, so when it comes to retirement, settling into a new home can be a struggle. It is possible to adopt a retired working dog; many end up being rehomed with one of their previous handlers. It is because of the strong bond which builds up between a dog and its handler during deployment that makes this arrangement the perfect loving home for dogs in their retirement. Both the dog and the handler know that they can trust each other with their lives.
Working dogs are a vital part of the U.S. military, and their contributions are all too often overlooked. A United States War Dogs Memorial was erected in 2006 at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in honor of all canine war heroes and their handlers.
Dogs are an integral part of our military, as we just couldn’t manage without them – next time you thank a soldier or a veteran for their service, spare a thought for the four-legged friends who put their lives on the line for our country, too.
Kyle has been with US Patriot Tactical since 2009 and is currently Manager of the Ft. Stewart location and the law enforcement sales representative for the state of Georgia.
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