National K9 Veterans Day is March 13, 2021.  On this day, dog lovers everywhere honor these four-legged heroes for their dedication and and sacrifices for the American military.  Nearly 80 years ago the U.S. Army began training for its new War Dog Program, known as the “K9 Corps.”  This was the first time in military history that dogs were officially part of the Armed Forces.

A History Lesson

Over a century ago, during the Civil War, military dogs mostly served as morale boosters for the troops.  But some acted as guards for prisoners and even did sentry duty.  In one instance during the Civil War, a Confederate spy hid documents in a false coat of fur on her dog.  The top secret papers were safely delivered to a general. He was very surprised when the woman cut the “false” hide off of her dog.

At sea, military dogs mostly served as rodent control officers and when they reached land they helped seek out food and water for the troops.

During World War I, Sergeant Stubby helped warn the troops of artillery, gas and infantry attacks.  He also help apprehend a German Spy and for that brave duty he was promoted to Sergeant.

The first parachuting dogs jumped into combat on D-Day, accompanying the British paratroopers as they landed on the beaches of France.

One of the most famous military dogs was Chips, a German Shepherd mix that forced the capture of a dozen Italian solders.  Despite being wounded in the attack, Chips attacked enemy soldiers and pulled guns from their mount.

During the Vietnam War, Nemo, an Air Force sentry dog, was patrolling the base with his handler when they were attacked by guerillas. Nemo savagely attacked the enemies, while his handler called for reinforcements. Nemo lost an eye and the handler was injured, but Nemo kept him safe until reinforcements arrived.

Current day, in Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs have been trained to detect explosives.  They help their troops avoid IEDs and mines.  During the capture of Osama Bin Laden, Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was the only non-human soldier to raid Bin Laden’s compound in 2011.

The Imbreakable Bond

When a soldier is deployed, handlers and their dogs are inseparable and will stay in the same living quarters. However, when back at their U.S. base, handlers are not allowed to bring their dogs home at the end of the day. While it may sound harsh to keep the dogs on the base, every military dog is an incredibly valuable asset to each base.  There are simply too many risks in allowing them to stay anywhere but a controlled kennel area.

During active duty, it is only the handler and the dog that deploy together so they are a unit. They are a team. The dog handler really has to form a strong relationship with that dog. They need to build the trust that is necessary to be a successful team. It is a relationship based off love and trust and co-dependency.

Which Breed Is Best?

In current times, the vast majority of U.S. military working dogs are German shepherds and Belgian Malinois. These breeds are chosen because they are very aggressive, smart, loyal and athletic. German Shepherd dogs are preferred as the standard breed because of their unique combination of traits. Shepherds are intelligent, dependable, predictable, easily trained, usually moderately aggressive, and can adapt readily to almost any climatic conditions. While many dog breeds exhibit some or most of these traits, the Shepherd  most consistently exhibits all of these traits.