Did you know dogs did not have an official role in the U.S. military until 1942? According to the U.S. Department of Defense, while canines became official members of the military as part of the Army K9 Corps that year, they had been serving alongside human troops for much longer. This K9 Veterans Day, we are celebrating the storied history of Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and how they became the highly skilled four-legged fighters we know today.
The first dog to serve in the military on record is said to be ‘Stubby’, a former stray smuggled to Europe by a soldier during World War I. Stubby “served” in 17 battles by alerting U.S. soldiers of gas attacks and even sniffed out a German spy who was disguised as a U.S. soldier. As a result of his miraculous contribution, Stubby was given the title of Sergeant with the 102nd Infantry Regiment and paved the way for future canines to make their mark on the U.S. military.
In today’s military, MWDs play a much larger role in daily operations. MWDs are recruited from birth from a number of elite breeders around the world as well as the Department of Defense’s own Military Working Dog Breeding Program. About 50-90 puppies are born into this program every year, with all of them being Belgian Malinois. Why Belgian Malinois? Well, this breed is known for having strong noses, trainability, agility, and loyalty - among other traits deemed ideal for military work. Within the first few weeks after birth, the puppies are tested for personality traits such as inquisitiveness, sociability, and a lack of fear for loud noises. The ones that exemplify these traits are then sent to foster parents and later Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas to be trained and socialized to a combat zone-esque environment.
Once these dogs complete their obedience and bite-work training at Lackland, they are specially assigned to one of the 6 military branches and will remain there for the rest of their career. When they arrive at their assignment, the dogs receive highly specialized training to perform one of many specific tasks of which only canines are capable. These tasks can range from explosive detection, to drug detection, security, and many more. Want to see what a day in the life of a military working dog-in-training is like? Follow MWD Ben’s day of training below, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense:
After their 120-day program, the MWDs will be ready to enter regular military service! According to the USO, the average career for a military working dog is 8 years. After their honorable service, these pups have the ability to be adopted by their handler. In fact, more than 90% of MWDs meet this fate! On the off chance they do not join their handler in retirement, they typically go on to work in law enforcement or find forever homes through ‘Robby’s Law’, the adoption program for MWDs enacted in 2000 by Lackland Air Force Base. In retirement, canine veterans can experience post-traumatic stress just like humans, which is why it is important to find them permanent homes that can help them adjust to civilian life. Luckily they do not have to wait very long for a home, as the wait list for Robby’s Law is 18 months to 2 years long - full of both former military and civilian adopters waiting to give these dogs the retirement they deserve.
Want to learn more about the raising, training, and handling of military working dogs? Visit https://www.defense.gov/Multimedia/Experience/Four-Legged-Fighters/ for more information on these four-legged heroes.