What do military working dogs do?
At least 14,000 years ago, in one of evolution’s most fascinating (and adorable) events, dogs diverged from their wolf ancestors. The details of the domestication process are still hazy, but the results have completely changed our relationship with dogs. Working dogs even save lives.
While most of us think of dogs as lovable pets, they are so much more than that. Dogs have much of the same biological advantages as their evolutionary predecessors, including intelligence and a remarkably developed sense of smell. They are also highly trainable, making them perfect candidates for jobs beyond human capability, including jobs in the military.
Military working dogs have served the United States for over 100 years.
In the early years of our country’s history, dogs were on the battlefield alongside their companions. In World War II, the first formally trained military working dogs were deployed – over 10,000 of them. They have played a role in every war since, with some studies estimating that over 10,000 human lives were saved by working dogs in Vietnam.
Not all breeds are suited to be military working dogs.
No offense, but a Shih-Tzu is better designed to be a pillow than a working dog. Many breeds have been used over the years, including Dobermans, Boxers, Rottweilers, and different types of terriers. In recent years, the basic breeds have shifted towards German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois. Why? These breeds are fiercely loyal, loving, and obedient, with an incredibly powerful bite. Perfect.
These special puppies take on several essential and vital roles in the field. These are some of the most common.
Trained to work silently, patrol dogs search for snipers and alert troops to possible ambushes. Having them around is a powerful deterrent to enemies. Because they are so good at what they do, soldiers are often more comfortable around them.
Sentinel dogs are most often used to detect enemies approaching at night. The Coast Guard has even used them to alert ships to enemy underwater activity.
Messenger working dogs are trained to convey messages from one handler to another. Sometimes they carry sensitive information through enemy territory, so they must travel as discreetly as possible.
Explosive detection dogs
Explosive dogs start training at the age of a year and a half and they are practically made for the job. Their noses have 300 million olfactory receptors compared to just six million in humans, and more than a third of their brains are used to process smells. These finely tuned sniffers learn to detect the presence of dozens of chemical ingredients. When they recognize an ingredient, they are trained to sit down. A puppy can’t prance at TNT, can it?
The most comforting of all military working dogs are those that literally save lives. Their incredible sense of smell allows them to find wounded soldiers in places a human could never guess. Armed with protective gear and tiny cameras, the dogs survey the scene to lead their human partners to seriously injured companions.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 300 search and rescue dogs assisted at Ground Zero. They sniffed out several injured civilians buried under the rubble. Rescuers were so impressed with a dog they saved its DNA. A few years later, they made five little clones of injured dogs!
Ask any military dog handler, and they’ll tell you that working dogs are more than military assets. They work alongside their human companions with as much loyalty and brotherhood as any other member of the service, except on all fours and with a much better schnoz. Their relatively short lifespan makes their devotion all the more poignant; they really devote most of their lives to saving ours.
They may not be able to read or speak, but they honor their unofficial commitment through their actions:
“My eyes are your eyes. To monitor and protect you and yours. My ears are your ears. To hear and detect evil spirits in the dark. My nose is your nose to sniff out the invader of your domain. And for you to live, my life is also yours.