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Military working dogs; unsung heroes saving lives since 1942

Tomorrow marks Veteran's day. A day we pause to remember the fallen and thank those who offer the ultimate sacrifice to protect our homes, families and way of life. We say today what should be said every day...thank you. "May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door." -an Irish toast

World War I saw the formation of the Army K-9 Corp in 1942. Originally all breeds were accepted but as time progressed, German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers became favored. Most references refer to their usage as trench rat removers during the great war of attrition.

World war II saw numbers of greater than 10,000 canine troops with approximately 436 being used as scouts, the remainder as messengers and mine detectors. Canine troops you may ask? That's right, since its' formation every canine has been issued a military service record.

The Korean war saw greater than 1500 canines used primarily as guard patrol.

The real surge in canine use began with the Vietnam war. Numbers vary between 3747 and 4900 canines used in service with only 204 canines exiting the campaign. Those lucky few either remained in the Pacific under South Vietnamese control or returned to military service stateside. Handler estimates reached 10,000 and canines served with distinction in all branches (65% Army, 26% Air Force, 7% Marine and 2% Two hundred and eighty one are officially listed as killed in action. Canines served as infantry scouts, led combat tracker teams, performed sentry duty (their motto-"detect, detain, destroy"-www.uswardogs,org), and served as mine/booby/tunnel sweepers.

Today's military working dog serves a variety of functions. Several hundred (the numbers increase daily) serve patrol and detection (explosive and drug). Estimates of nearly 2,000 canines serve similar functions at military bases worldwide. The Belgian Malinois is now breed exclusively through the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program as the preferred breed by the 341st training squadron at Lackland Air Force base in Texas. This specialized squadron is responsible for all aspects of military dog breeding, health care and training of both canine and handler, including kennel-masters and specialized team members. An approximately 13 million dollar veterinary facility provides daily care as specialized staff in combination with foster families, begin training up to 40 hours a week once pups reach six months of age. The initial focus being play drive then the addition of scent and trained aggression skills. The entrance exam for formal training comes at one year of age. The squadron provides over 100 dogs a year for military service (Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program; North American Police Work Dog Association,

And what of the injured soldier and their return to civilian life? Dogs are waiting to provide service and support. Canine provide guide, service, combat stress relief and military therapy roles. Vets Helping Heroes was created to match canines with special needs soldiers and provides a service dog for life for our veterans.

How can you help on veterans day? How can you express your thanks? With a waiting list and a greater than $50,000 investment over the lifetime of a veteran (the average lifespan of most canines being 7-10 years and replacements are free) the Vets Helping Heroes organization ( could use some support. 

Money tight for the upcoming holidays? Canines in service in Iraq and Afghanistan could be helped with a small donation of pet care products; visit  for a list of needs. Help create a care package for canines whose unfailing service returns safely to us so many beloved military men and women. Provide an example of the true spirit of Christmas, send care packages in honor of  family members, the military or beloved pets, or consider providing for a military canine as a family this season.

The canine soldier: if the borrowing of mottoes is excused, always faithful, always vigilante, always ready to serve, protect and defend their fellow soldier.

Spread the word and help our troops, forward this to dog lovers.

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  • Cpl Benjamin Shaffer 4 years ago

    Thank you for assoc. me with your article. I didn't realize how famous Pinki and I had become. We are still deployed and should be coming home in December. Thanks to everyone for there support.