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Canine Lifesavers: Man’s Best Friend in Combat and at Home

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Photo Courtesy of The U.S. Army

The dog has long been known as man’s best friend. Today, over half of all American households own at least one dog. For the past hundreds of years, German shepherds, collies, huskies, and the like have accompanied families through all of life’s circumstances. They’ve spent days lounging at the feet of their owners and chasing after sticks at the park. However, in the early 1900s, life got a lot more exciting for a few select canines. These special dogs would become the very first war dogs to enlist in the United States Military.

World War I

A formal war dog program was not in place during World War I, but that didn’t stop the military from using canines in combat. One such dog named Stubby fought in 17 battles in 1918. He was even awarded the military’s gold medal for saving soldiers from a gas attack, sniffing out German spies, and locating wounded American soldiers. Since his passing, Stubby’s remains have been preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.

World War II

One month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Association teamed with Dogs for Defense to begin the United States’ military working dog program. Military personnel trained more than 10,000 dogs for duty in World War II. The following were the military’s favorite breeds:

Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd
Siberian Husky
Collie
Eskimo
Belgian Sheep Dog
Alaskan Malamute

Korean War

In the early 1950s, war dogs were trained at a special Army base in Fort Carson, Colorado. From there, most dogs went to the Sentry Dog Training Center in Japan. Military handlers trained these canines to guard storage sites and supply areas, as well as the perimeter of military bases.

Vietnam War

During the conflict in South Vietnam, the United States deployed over 4,000 war dogs and 10,000 handlers. This marked the first time that veterinarians were also deployed to offer special care for the dogs. These dogs performed many crucial functions including scouting, tracking, and patrolling on land and in water.

The War on Terror

In the 21st century, the United States Air Force has taken the reigns of the military working dog program. Military members from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard train with their canine counterparts at Lackland Air Force base. Today, war dogs are trained to search buildings, sniff out mines and bombs, and perform combat missions. Approximately 2,000 war dogs are currently serving for the United States.

A Friend in Healing

Dogs and soldiers go hand and hand, but not just for combat overseas. In recent years, many organizations have begun to offer canine-assisted therapy for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, the Paws for Purple Hearts program pairs distressed military members with Labrador and golden retriever puppies. The veterans train the pups for 18-24 months and then pass the dogs on as service animals for physically disabled soldiers. For those suffering from PTSD, programs like this one can lessen anxiety and depression, along with giving the veterans a renewed sense of purpose upon re-entering civilian life.

Taking Care of Our Furry Friends

Sending care packages is a popular way to show support for deployed members of the military, but don’t forget about our furry friends serving overseas! Several organizations across the United States, like the US Military K-9 Fund and the K9 division of Give2TheTroops, regularly gather dog-focused items and ship them to members of the military working dog program. We’ve listed some commonly requested items below:

Water bowls (“Buddy Bowls” or “Outward Hound Port-a-Bowls”)
Dog brushes (Furminator)
Latex toys and Kong toys
Doggie snacks
Dog beds
Dog scales
Dog shampoo
Cooling vests (“RPCM Chilly Dog Cool Vest”)
Doggles (eye goggles for dogs)
Dog food (Science Diet dry dog food)

Have you ever worked with a war dog? Do you think your pet is brave enough to serve in the military?

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