pet news

More than pets: military working dogs

April 21, 2010

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Our dogs are there for us no matter what happens; in good times or bad times, happy or sad. They're waiting for us when we get home after a long day at work and they wake us up with a smile and tail wag each and every morning. Dogs are our best friends, our constant companions, our children.

But dogs are more than just our family members. They are extremely intelligent animals that provide many important services that benefit our communities and our country. Also known as “police dogs” or “K-9,” Military Working Dogs have a long history in the United States dating back to World War II.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, a movement began encouraging dog owners to donate their dogs to assist the Army. Thus began the training of the “K-9 Corps.” Basic training was 8-12 weeks and the dogs were trained to carry out commands (sit, stay, come, etc.), ride in military vehicles, become accustomed to the noises of war, etc. After the initial training was complete, each dog went on to specialized training tailored to each individual dog’s strengths:

• Messengers: These dogs were trained to be very loyal to two people, as they needed to be able to silently and quickly travel between the two and deliver messages.
• Scouts: Using the dogs' keen sense of smell and hearing, Scouts were trained to silently locate booby traps, snipers, hidden weapons, etc.
• Sentries: Sentry dogs defended camps and other important areas. They gave a signal to warn their human guard counterpart that someone (or something) was approaching.
• Mine Detection: Mine dogs were trained to find trip wires, booby traps, metallic and non-metallic mines.

Today's Military Working Dogs have varied roles but are rarely used on the front lines unlike their ancestors. Currently there is only one facility in the United States that trains dogs for military use. Although they are still used as sentries, scouts, and mascots, modern Military Working Dogs also perform the following services:

• Law Enforcement: Many dogs are esteemed partners and even officers in local police forces. They can chase, track, and guard suspects as well as react when their police officer is being attacked.
• Drugs & Explosives: Detection dogs are able to sniff out a mass array of illegal substances, even in airtight, sealed containers.  These dogs are also able to detect explosives and are very helpful in airports, entry and exit checkpoints, and secure areas.
• Search & Rescue: Dogs are also an integral part of Search and Rescue efforts. These dogs are skilled in tracking and detecting human scents and are trained to help find people who may have gotten lost in the woods, trapped under an avalanche, etc.

Common Breeds Used:
The most common breed for law enforcement operations has been the German Shepherd but in recent years smaller dogs with keener senses of smell have been used for detection work. The Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd have also proven to be very helpful for patrolling.
Other Military Working Dog breeds include Boxers, Argentine Dogos, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Springer Spaniels, Bloodhounds, Beagles, Rottweilers, and Giant Schnauzers.

Each and every Military Working Dog is cared for by one person, known as a handler. The handler is paired with a dog after the dog has completed training. Although each handler may not have the same dog for the entire length of his or her career, the handler works with a dog for at least a year, if not many more.

Military Working Dogs work extremely hard and put in many years of loyal service using their skills and training. Once these dogs retire from their work life, there are many programs out there to place these dogs in loving homes so they can spend their retirement in comfort and relaxation while providing another person or family with the joy of having a dog.

Many people think of dogs just as pets. If you're a dog owner, you already know that your dog is more than just a “pet.” Still, we don't always think about Military Working Dogs and how they spend most of their lives performing valuable services to keep us safe. These dogs are canine heroes.