Many of us look at dogs as furry best friends or members of the family, but some dogs have left their homes to assist in the military. They work tirelessly and loyally to protect the people who fight for and defend our country.
Military working dogs (MWDs) perform many tasks that are impossible for humans. They have been invaluable companions and fellow soldiers. Using dogs in the military is not new, and their history reaches back centuries.
Canines have taken part in military actions dating to the conquest of the Roman Empire, the days of the Egyptians and beyond. Many of them worked to guard people or property, detect dangers, protect humans in battle and played the role of hero as they saved countless lives through their active duty.
Today, on Memorial Day, as we honor our nation’s military past and present, we also honor the canine companions that fearlessly accompanied them.
Here’s a quick look at three amazing military war dog heroes:
Stubby was a Pit Bull Terrier that wandered near Yale University’s campus in 1917 and learned the routines of the servicemen. Some say he picked up the training regimen so well that he was allowed to join the troop overseas, while others believe he was hidden within the equipment so Corporal Robert Conroy could take the dog with him.
Stubby was instrumental in protecting the troops from dangers such as a poison gas attack and even capturing enemies. He served in the military for almost two years and is said to be the only canine to earn the rank of sergeant from combat experience.
Another dog widely celebrated was Chips, a shepherd and collie mixed breed that served in World War II. Chips was most known for diving into an enemy post and forcing those soldiers to surrender in Sicily. Chips’ handler was William Putney, a Marine Corps officer who later became a veterinarian. (More on Putney in a bit.)
War dog Nemo and his handler were patrolling an air base in Vietnam in 1966 when enemy infiltrators were approaching. An attack ensued, and Nemo lost an eye from the fight protecting his handler, who was also injured. Nemo healed quickly and lived to be 11.
Transitioning Back to Civilian Life
When Putney learned that the military planned to euthanize military dogs upon their return to the states, he stepped in and asked permission to retrain Chips and the other returning service dogs for civilian life. His request was granted, and he worked to desensitize the dogs.
Unfortunately, this procedure was not followed in later years, and military dogs were believed to be widely euthanized from 1949 to 2000. Putney continued to fight for the rights of military dogs, and just a few years before his death, a bill was passed in 2000 allowing handlers to retrain and adopt their dogs after their service ended.
Types of Service
Dogs used in the military are trained for different jobs based on a number of factors such as breed, temperament and ability. These are descriptions of some of the positions dogs are trained to perform in service:
- Attack dogs are trained to patrol perimeters and apprehend and hold trespassers.
- Tactical dogs are trained for combat situations and also test military gear for dogs.
- Silent scout dogs are trained, as their name suggests, to alert handlers to the presence of an enemy through silent warnings. They are trained not to bark or growl and are used in reconnaissance, patrol posts and security groups.
- Messenger dogs are trained to deliver messages between two handlers. These dogs are fast, focused and execute their missions under any battle or weather conditions. They differ from most military working dogs that are trained to respond only to a single handler.
- Casualty dogs are trained to locate injured soldiers on the field and in buildings.
- Sledge dogs are trained to locate Air Force personnel in the event of a landing or crash in an inaccessible area.
- Pack dogs were trained to transport supplies such as small arms and ammunition; however, they were not known to be used.
With the exception of the messenger dogs, most military dogs have only one handler. They are trained to respond only to their handler, and most will not allow anyone else to touch them. One of their priorities is protecting their handler, so anyone viewed as trying to cause harm to the handler faces fierce opposition.
Watch this video of Larry Chilcoat talking about his dog Geisha, who served with him in Vietnam:
- Typically only the handler is allowed to touch a military dog. When General Dwight D. Eisenhower went to commend the work of Chips’ unit, he tried to pet the dog and got nipped in return.
- The German Shepherd breed received the designation of the official U.S. Army dog in 1946.
- During the 1940s, even movie stars in Hollywood sent their dogs to train for combat.
- Some dogs were able to detect quantities of explosives that were so small they could not be measured.
- Stubby, the Pit Bull Terrier that was considered the first official U.S. war dog, was said to salute by placing his right paw over his right eyebrow.
Ways to Honor the Military War Dogs
There are many ways to honor our nation’s four-legged heroes. Since the law passed allowing military dogs to be adopted, please consider giving one of them a home through a military dog adoption service. The law allows civilians — not just the dogs’ handlers — to adopt them and give them a loving home. The U.S. War Dogs Association also offers adoption services.
Help the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act (S. 2134) get approved. This bill seeks to get military dogs re-classed from “equipment” to recognized canine members of the armed forces. Visit the ASPCA site to help support this bill. It costs you nothing — just fill out a few fields of information to help support the recognition of our canine military friends.
Make a donation to a rescue or adoption facility that places retired military working dogs. If money is an issue, help support the bill listed above, and you can also light a candle online for free to honor these dogs today.
I wish there was enough space here to list every military soldier and dog, but the numbers are endless. You can help honor them by sharing this article with your friends and family!
Photos: DVIDSHUB/Flickr (top), SSgt. Tracy L. English/Lackland AFB Office of History