When you think about dogs, you likely envision them as lovely pets and companions who share your space. But there are other kinds of dogs — some brave canines actually go to war to fight for our country. Keep reading to find out why dogs go to war and what these amazing animals do to help keep the U.S. safe and sound.
1. Dogs make great team members
Soldiers relaxing with their sniffer dogs. | Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
According to the website United States War Dogs Association, dogs make great team members, and they also have visual and olfactory sensory abilities that are literally superhuman. War dogs can go where soldiers can’t — and they can even subdue an enemy more quickly with non-lethal force. Because of these canine traits, armies have been training dogs for military roles for a century.
Next: Scent detection
2. Dogs have superhuman noses
Close up of a military dog | Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
A dog’s sense of smell is pretty amazing, according to the United States War Dogs Association. Canine have from 10 to 20 times the number of nose receptors as humans, and the olfactory part of their brains is also larger than humans’. This enables them to detect very faint odors and tell the differences, however slight, in chemical composition. Because of their sense of smell, dogs are great for tasks such as detecting explosives or drugs, tracking, finding a casualty location, and performing search and rescue missions.
Next: Changing roles
3. Dogs roles with the military are changing
A soldier with his attack dog. | Alexander Klein/AFP/GettyImages
Dogs have had many roles in the military during the last century, but today, there are specific duties the military has defined in which dogs excel in service. In the past, dogs have caught rats and drawn fire to expose enemy positions, according to the United States War Dogs Association. But today, the military assigns dogs humane tasks in which their special skills can be best put to use.
Next: On guard
4. Sentry dogs
Zzarr, a 6-year old Dutch Shepherd and K-9 handler US Army Sergeant Nathan Arriaga. | Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
Sentry dogs are popular in the military. They can warn soldiers of an impending perilous situation by growling or barking. If an attack from the rear — in the dark — is imminent, these dogs can be lifesavers. Sentry dogs are taught to give soldiers warnings by growling or barking, according to the United States War Dogs Association.
- Of the 10,425 dogs trained in WW II, approximately 9,300 did time on sentry duty.
- In 1943 the biggest number of sentry dogs was trained — 3,174 — and issued to the Coast Guard to accompany them on beach patrols and guard against enemy submarine activities.
Next: On patrol
5. Patrol and scout dogs
A dog and soldier keep watch. | Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images
Scout — aka patrol — dogs are trained the same as sentry dogs, but they are also trained to work in silence to help detect enemy forces, snipers, and ambushes in a particular location, according to the United States War Dogs Association. Dogs with superior intelligence and a quiet disposition are chosen for scout dog training, which involves the animal walking point on combat patrols with his Quartermaster.
- Scout dogs can detect the enemy at distances up to 1,000 yards, long before soldiers become aware of them. When a scout dog senses the enemy, it stiffens its body, raises its hackles, pricks its ears and holds its tail rigid.
- The presence of dogs with patrols significantly reduces the danger of ambush.
Next: Can you please take a message?
6. Message dogs
A dog runs in front of his handler. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Message dogs do what their titles indicate — they are often the only way that front lines can exchange messages with those behind them. These dogs must be super loyal, because they have to be motivated to work with two handlers. Message dogs also must learn to travel silently and use natural cover for protection when they move between the handlers, according to the United States War Dogs Association.
Next: A dangerous job
7. Mine dogs
An Afghan de-miner working with a dog on the outskirts of Kabul. | Daud Yardost/AFP/Getty Images
Known as “M-Dogs” or mine detection dogs, these canines are trained to locate booby traps, trip wires, and metallic and nonmetallic mines. During World War II, the military sent units of mine dogs to North Africa, according to the United States War Dogs Association. Unfortunately, the poor creatures experienced problems detecting mines under combat conditions.
Next: A sad job
8. Casualty dogs
Basco, a military dog. | Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
Like search and rescue dogs, casualty canines are trained to search for and report casualties they find in obscure places — or those that casualty collection parties can’t find. If the victim is in severe shock or hemorrhaging, anyvaluable seconds a dog can save in locating him could mean the difference between life and death.
Next: A confusing job
9. Tunnel dogs
Concrete models illustrating daily life inside the tunnels during war time. | Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images
When America fought in Vietnam, soldiers used tunnel dogs to detect and explore the Viet Cong’s tunnels. Because the Viet Cong tunnel dwellers feared the dogs, they implemented tactics to confuse them. They washed with GI soap and covered air vents with American shirts they took from soldiers so the dogs’ senses of smell wouldn’t be alerted, according to the United States War Dogs Association.
Next: Mission impossible
10. Explosives dogs
A member of the Iraqi security forces leads a sniffer dog as they check a polling station for explosives. | Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images
A common wartime danger consists of hidden explosives — in a vehicle, on a person, or at a roadside location — according to the United States War Dogs Association. Explosives detection dogs are trained to warn soldiers if they smell the scent of chemicals used in explosives. Because dogs have such a superior sense of smell, it’s nearly impossible to package explosives in a way they can’t detect. Today, many explosives detection dogs are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Next: The originals
11. Typical military breeds in the past
Dobermans were one of five breeds chosen. | Thanu_Media/iStock/Getty Images
According to the United States War Dogs Association, Quartermaster Corps started training dogs for the K-9 corps early during World War II. At first, almost 30 breeds were accepted for the program, but that list was later cut to five:
- German shepherd
- Belgian sheepdog
- Doberman pinschers
- Farm collie
- Giant schnauzers
Great Danes did not make the cut because they were too big and too difficult to train, and hunting dogs didn’t make it because animal scents occupied their attention. Those involved in military Arctic duty still train Alaskan malamutes and huskies for duty as sled dogs.
Next: Today’s war dog breeds
12. Different dogs go to war today
Belgian Malinois | Wikimedia Commons
The majority of U.S. military working dogs in recent times are German and Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois, according to the United States War Dogs Association. Soldiers take these dogs to war due to characteristics that include aggressive, smart, loyal and athletic. But because German shepherds have an unusual combination of traits — intelligent, dependable, predictable, easy to train, moderately aggressive — and are adaptable to almost any climate, the military significantly favors them for service.
Next: Special breeds
13. Different dogs for different roles
Military Bomb sniffer dog Corporal Ace. | Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
For specialized roles — such as detector dogs — the military favors different breeds. For example, Labrador and golden retrievers are preferred as One Odor Detector dogs, according to the United States War Dogs Association.
- All of the dogs U.S. military uses are procured and trained by the 341st Military Working Dog Training Squadron, Lackland AFB, Texas.
Next: A hero
14. This war dog was a sergeant
Stubby was the most famous war dog. | Stubby: Terrier Hero of Georgetown/Wikimedia Commons
Probably the most famous war dog, an American pit bull terrier named Stubby rose to the rank of sergeant in World War I, according to the website dogtime.com. He started life as a stray on the Yale campus in 1917, and his adoptive owner, Cpl. John Robert Conroy, smuggled him to France during World War I. Stubby was in 17 battles and four offenses, he warned his unit of poison-gas attacks and incoming artillery fire, and he found casualties on the battlefield. Stubby died in his owner’s arms in 1926.
Next: The numbers
15. There are quite a few military dogs in service today
Soldiers stand with military dog. | Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
According to the website CertaPet, today there are approximately 2,500 war and military service dogs in service — and around 700 of them serve overseas at any given time. But what happens when a military dog retires? Typically — much like their military counterparts — the canine will find service in law enforcement.
Next: True story
16. Some military dogs actually jump from planes and rappel from helicopters
| National Geographic via Youtube
Yes, you read that correctly. Some military dogs join their partners in rappelling from helicopters and parachuting from aircraft. These special canines are extremely resilient and have a super high drive, according to CertaPet. And they are even specially trained by military contractors instead of the Military Working Dog Training Squadron.
Read more: The Most Popular Dog Breeds From Different Decades
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