War Dogs

Photo: U.S. Air Force SGT David J. Filchak the handler for Turbo, a military working dog and beagle, inspect a car for narcotics.  Turbo is a narcotics detecting working dog for the base and has been right 95 percent of the time.

U.S. Air Force SGT David J. Filchak the handler for Turbo, a military working dog and beagle, inspect a car for narcotics. Turbo is a narcotics detecting working dog for the base and has been right 95 percent of the time.

Story by Brittany Brown
Edited by MC2 Bryan Niegel

Have you ever wondered when or how military working dogs became what they are today? As a dog owner and lover I have always been fascinated by working dogs and how well trained and obedient they are. It is hard enough to get my dog to listen when I call her name or to stop her from chasing a squirrel up a tree. I always wonder, How do the trainers get them to behave so well? And how do the whole program got started in the first place.

Dogs have been associated with the U.S. Army since its inception, but their role was primarily that of a mascot or in some other unofficial capacity. Not until World War II did the Army make the connection official. In January 1942, members of the American Kennel Club and other dog lovers formed a civilian organization called Dogs for Defense. They intended to train dogs to perform sentry duty for the Army along the coast of the United States. Aware of this effort, Lt. Col. Clifford C. Smith, chief of the Plant Protection Branch, Inspection Division, Quartermaster Corps, met with his commander, Maj. Gen. Edmund B. Gregory, and suggested that the Army use the sentry dogs at supply depots. Gregory gave his approval to an experimental program, and on March 13, 1942, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson approved Gregory’s application and created the K-9 Corps.

Controlled aggression exercise

Master-at-Arms Seaman Apprentice Randy Tallman, assigned to Commander, Navy Region Southwest, acts as a military working dog moving target during a controlled aggression exercise Jan. 10, 2013 in San Diego. The exercises are conducted to train the dogs in subduing noncompliant suspects. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mark El-Rayes

Check out these facts about the K-9 Corps and military dogs:

    • The K-9 Corps initially accepted for training thirty-two breeds of dogs. By 1944, that list had been reduced to seven: German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Belgian sheep dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs and Malamutes.
    • The Quartermaster Corps experimented with training dogs to locate casualties on the battlefield. Dogs were first tested for this at Carlisle Barracks on May 4, 1944. Ultimately, the Army abandoned this program because the dogs did not or could not make a distinction between men not wounded, men who had received wounds, or men who had died.
    • Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the Soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River.
Photo: U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Christopher Coolahan and Military Working Dog Meky, assigned to Camp Lemonnier Base Security, participate in controlled training exercises at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Jan. 30, 2013. Military Working Dogs are used to apprehend suspects, perform searches, and detect explosives and narcotics. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Nick Strocchia

U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Christopher Coolahan and Military Working Dog Meky, assigned to Camp Lemonnier Base Security, participate in controlled training exercises at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Jan. 30, 2013. Military Working Dogs are used to apprehend suspects, perform searches, and detect explosives and narcotics. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Nick Strocchia

  • The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender. The wounded Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart–all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals. 
  • After World War II, the Military Police Corps took over responsibility for training military dogs. They have continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts.
  • It is estimated that the Army employed 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War.
  • Gabe, a retired military dog who completed more than 200 combat missions in Iraq, was namedAmerican Hero Dog of 2012 at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Los Angeles.
  • Every military working dog is a non-commissioned officer – in tradition at least. Some say the custom was to prevent handlers from mistreating their dogs; hence, a dog is always one rank higher than its handler.
Photo: Paris, a coalition force military working dog gets ready to attend a transition shura in Khak-E-Safed district, Farah province, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau

Paris, a coalition force military working dog gets ready to attend a transition shura in Khak-E-Safed district, Farah province, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mindy.richlambert Mindy Rich Lambert

    Thank you, Ms. Brown, for addressing the importance of working dogs in military service.
    Your article was not only informative (I never knew about Dogs for Defense), but also entertaining. The bravery that is inherent of many working dog breeds benefits our soldiers in daily combat, and on the homefront, dealing with the evils of war. Though Gabe publicly received the American Hero Dog of 2012 award (this was an emotional and well-deserved award), I’m sure every service member who served alongside dog- soldiers feel their canine ‘battle buddies’ are just as deserving of the same, if not more, recognition and honor.

  • PAQ

    Great article. It’s interesting to know how far back trained dogs go into our military history. I think one thing to remember about dogs in the military is that there are trained dogs, and there are mutts that hang out on COPs and FOBs oversea that can be a liability. We utilized trained dogs in a couple of our missions and they were spectacular. It’d be interesting to watch them be trained to see how it is they do what they do!