Updated: Feb 16, 2019
Dogs have been serving as four-legged soldiers, in the United States military, officially since World War II. Known as military working dogs (MWDs), they stand side-by-side with our servicemen and servicewomen, and are more than just their companions – they are their protectors and actively contribute to U.S. combat operations.
All military working dogs and their handlers are trained at the 341st Training Squadron, located at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas. Each year approximately 425 Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine students are trained to be handlers, 185 dogs are trained and certified to detect explosives, and 85 dogs are trained for patrol and drug detection. Each MWD is a non-commissioned officer.
There are approximately 2,500 military working dogs currently in service and approximately 1% of these dogs will serve with special operations groups. The journey for a dog to make it into service begins as a puppy. The military has puppy development specialists that work with the carefully-selected puppies from the time they are born until they begin their training, around 6-7 months of age. Dogs, who are destined for special operations, undergo about 2 years of rigorous training prior to joining their human service members. The average career for a MWD is approximately 8-10 years.
Primarily Trained for:
Search and rescue
Scout and patrol
MWDs must have the following traits:
Acute sense of smell, hearing, and vision
Drive to prey and hunt
The vast majority of military working dogs are purchased from countries like Germany and the Netherlands, where dogs have been purposely-bred for military service for hundreds of years. This practice has allowed breeders to select ideal traits, such as the appropriate balance of aggressiveness, playfulness, intelligent disobedience and tenacity, and breed world-famous working canine lines.
MWDs are equipped with the latest and greatest equipment to help them complete their missions. Some of the gear may include: a vest to cover vital organs, goggles, a camera that can be mounted on the vest, collar, and short/long leads. The vest is multifunctional, in that it can serve to lower the dog from a helicopter or building and even attach to the handler for parachuting out of an airplane.
While deployed on missions, proper medical care for these elite canines are essential in the event they are injured in the field. The dog's handler and medic are trained in first aid. The handler must ensure the dog is allowed breaks to avoid heat exhaustion. The dogs are so dedicated to their work that they will literally work themselves to death.
Home Front K9
One guy who knows first hand the impact that MWDs have, both in service and in the veteran community, is Richard Graham III, who was enlisted as a US Navy SEAL for 6 years. While unable to provide specific details of any mission, Richard can recall numerous occasions where the dogs deployed with their SEAL teams and saved the lives of every team member by alerting to possible threats ahead while on patrol or detecting explosive devices.
Since retiring, Richard has started the Home Front K9 Project (HFK9).
The mission of HFK9 is to provide service dogs to our special forces operators while they are still active duty. As most are aware, service dogs have been proven to make a tremendous impact in helping veterans cope with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our goal is to help treat these issues early in the service members career. We are putting the dog into the family so when they come back from deployment their service dog is waiting for them, and when they leave, the dog doubles as a family protection dog for their wife and children. Another major thing we do that makes a huge impact in the family is hosting them at our 55-acre range in the Ocala National Forest in Central FL. Here we get the family out into nature for almost a week twice a year.
During this time, we train the dogs with the family, and give them an opportunity to build their relationships with one another through many team challenges focusing on the dog training. This experience is a great ice breaker when the service member returns home from deployment and is transitioning back into family life.
These dogs have a major effect on veterans by helping them cope with stress, but more importantly at the very core foundation of this program, our war fighters get a chance to experience the unconditional love that the dog has for them. HFK9 needs your help! If you would like to contribute to their mission, you can donate online at the link below.
Memorial Day is a day to remember all of the service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, protecting the very freedoms we enjoy each and every day. We also want to recognize all of the MWDs who have given their lives to protect our way of life. They have put themselves in harms way and served with courage and bravery. Their unwavering devotion to duty and completing the mission is more valuable than many of us will ever understand.
Dogs are more than just man's best friend; they are HEROES! Gone but never forgotten.
Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM