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On March 13, we recognize K9 Veterans Day, a day to salute the brave war dogs for their service to the U.S. military. While dogs have been accompanying humans in battle for centuries, official training centers for pooches under the Dogs for Defense did not come about until 1942. Today, there are about 2,500 working military dogs, and the day we commemorate them is also official birthday of the US Army K9 Corps. Let’s learn more about these paw-some military pups!
The Use of K9’s
Why would there be a demand for military dogs in the first place? The answer is that canines have special skills that surpass the human senses, proving very useful on the battlefield. Their superb noses can be used to sniff out explosives, locate soldiers and detect intruders. In addition to their ability to smell from far away distances, dogs can react quickly to dangers in their surroundings, and their innate strength is enough to intimidate an attacker without having to use lethal force. They are even trained to bite on command, revealing their discerning ability to stay loyal to their handlers while protecting them against their enemies. With their combination of optimal physical traits and fierce loyalty, dogs make the perfect partner for military use.
Breeds of the Military
Breeds used in the U.S. military have been narrowed largely to five breeds, the majority of which are German and Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. In fact, 85% of military dogs come directly from Germany and the Netherlands. In result, their handlers typically learn a few commands in the language of the dog’s country of origin. These breeds in particular are chosen for their consistent qualities of intelligence, loyalty and athleticism. Other breeds are used for more specialized roles, such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers as odor detection dogs. Others include Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies (short coat) and Giant Schnauzers, Alaskan Malamutes and American Eskimo dogs.
Canines in Combat
There are several different roles that military K9’s may serve. Sentry dogs are taught to guard supplies and warn their handlers of incoming danger. They are especially useful for nighttime operations, when soldiers are more vulnerable to covert attacks. In addition to possessing the skills of sentries, the specialty of scout or patrol dogs is to detect the presence of the enemy long before soldiers become aware. According to the United States War Dogs Association, when a scout dog senses the enemy approaching, she will stiffen her body, raise her hackles, prick her ears and hold her tail rigid. There are messenger dogs that travel silently with their handlers, mine dogs trained to detect dangerous obstacles and casualty dogs that seek out the injured and fallen. Tunnel dogs were used to explore underground in Vietnam, and explosives detection dogs are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the War on Terrorism. There’s a canine role for just about any job in the military.
After these heroic canines have finished their service, they often stay with their handlers and their handlers’ families as pets. They may also find homes with law enforcement, or get adopted into families who welcome the opportunity to give these deserving dogs a happy home where they can enjoy retirement from working military life.
Dogs are pretty amazing, huh? Use the hashtag #NationalK9VeteransDay to show your support for canine veterans today!