Dogs have been part of the military scene for many years. In fact, the earliest recorded use of canines in combat was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BC. As time has gone on the role of dogs in combat has grown. Starting with a role as message carriers and sentries, modern war dogs are trained to sniff out bombs and drugs, track people and even attack when necessary.
The most recognized breed for military work is the German Shepherd. However, Labradors, Belgian Malinois and Pitbulls have also seen action. In the US, 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.
A typical working life for a military dog is 8-9 years, after which they are retired with the vast majority being adopted by their former handlers. Those that are not adopted by their former handlers are adopted out to individuals or to law enforcement agencies.
The most decorated war dog of World War II was a German Shepherd mix named Chips who saw action in Germany, France, North Africa, and Sicily, with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy and forced ten enemy soldiers to surrender. Chips was wounded in the fight and was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart, all of which were later revoked due to a US Army policy preventing official commendation of animals.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a condition that, fortunately, is openly talked about nowadays. Many people who have served in the military have succumbed to PTSD, with a number of them using a specially trained service dog to help them get through the day-to-day challenges related to this condition. But it is also recognized that military working dogs can sometimes suffer from PTSD as well. Symptoms of Canine PTSD include hypervigilance, increased startle response, attempts to run away or escape, withdrawal, changes in rapport with a handler, and problems performing trained tasks – like a bomb dog who just can’t focus on sniffing out bombs any more. As with humans, some dogs can go to hell and back and then simply shrug it off, whereas others are profoundly affected by less.
And to end I’d like to leave you with “A Working Dog’s Oath”:
“I will lay down my life for you and expect nothing in return.
I protect my officer with my life and would gladly take a bullet in his place.
I find drugs and weapons and even bombs.
I am the first sent in and sometimes the last to leave.
I am the nose and ears of my officer.
I will protect and serve him.
I would die for him and for you.
I only ask for compassion and a kind word.”
God bless all our military dogs!