GENERAL BREED INFO

Military Dogs: List of Our Four Legged Heroes

Hero dogs in military
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

As you may or may not know, military dogs have often been employed for a plethora of missions. Dogs are reliable, trustworthy and they have a strong sense of loyalty. Therefore they will do anything for their pack, which turns military dogs into a great asset.

If you’re as curious about this topic as we are, we’ll give you an insight of their characteristics and roles, point out the most reliable military dog breeds, as well as provide you with some interesting trivia about them.

Main characteristics of military dogs

  • Great team-members.  Dogs will go above and beyond for the people they consider their pack. In fact, the military dog breeds used for their more than valuable service are especially educated to form a tight-knit bond with their handlers. Having a strong instinct for pack, they won’t question their duties and responsibilities, and be more than happy to do what is asked of them.
  • Easily trained. Dogs can learn an amazing number of signs and all sorts of commands. That puts them on the same level of intelligence as a 4 year-old human child. If you have a dog, you understand how easy it is to train them in the first months of their life, with the aid of just a few delicious treats. The military dog training isn’t as laid-back, but these terrific animals are the best subjects for this type of training.
  • Amazing sense of smell. All dogs, including military dogs, can smell people and objects as far as 1000 meters away, if the wind blows from that particular direction. At a normal wind speed, they can smell objects 200 meters away, but it’s still 10 or 20 times more than a human nose can do. That’s because the olfactory part of their brains is much bigger than a human’s, plus they have more odor receptors in their noses. That helps some of the military dog breeds become proficient at smelling narcotics and explosives.
    Moreover, they can detect victims, deserters or stowaways.
  • Good eye-sight. Dogs are better qualified than humans to perform some visual tasks. Firstly, they are highly sensitive to dusk light, which means they can see things more clearly when it’s dark. That gives military dogs a huge advantage over their human counterparts. Secondly, dogs can detect movement from farther away than humans do, which becomes really useful when an enemy is to be spotted. Thirdly, their peripheral vision is also better, which makes them more astute hunters and therefore more useful in combat.
  • Excellent hearing. Dogs can hear higher frequencies than people do, and can likewise detect sounds coming from a farther distance. You may have noticed that, when they seem to focus on a certain sound, dogs rotate their ears in the specific direction where the sound is coming from. They can do this movement with the aid of a total of 18 muscles located in their ears, but the shape of their ears also amplifies the sound. All this makes dogs better at hunting than we humans are which in turn further explains why military dogs are so useful on the field.
  • Fast reflexes. Dogs are really fast. Since they can out-run us, see, hear and smell better than us, you could almost say that they perceive the world as moving at a slower pace than we do. Their instincts and rapid reflexes were developed through millennia of evolution, in order to make them skillful hunters. That’s why the military dogs’ ability to act quickly is one of the main benefits which makes them perfect for different roles.

Military dog roles

The attributions undertaken by the military dogs have drastically changed over the course of time. At first, when people didn’t have the concept of animal protection, dogs were sent into dangerous situations, like exposing various enemy locations. But the days of using the military dog breeds as bait are over and done with.

Military dog

Now, the roles for which military dogs are prepared entail a more humane line of work.

  • Sentry duties. That’s one of the key attributions of military dogs. World War II statistics show us that about 80% to 90% of dogs were used for this purpose. What they have to do is give the warning signal in case they sense an unknown presence near the place they have to guard. Intruders are easily sensed by dogs even in the dark, which can act very fast in giving the alarm barking signal, and in catching them. In fact, using sentry dogs can actually dissuade the intruders’ intentions, since military dogs can be pretty scary.
  • Detecting explosives. With their awesome sense of smell, military dogs are perfect for this task. Especially now, when some terrorists hide bombs beneath their clothing, military dogs are quite often employed to discover these explosives.
    In Iraq and Afghanistan for example, there are also deployed many dogs trained to smell the most commonly used chemicals for different bombs, and to alert humans of their findings. Military dogs can likewise be trained to find mines, but training conditions are very different from the actual combat, when dogs can’t find mines as easily.
  • Scouting and patrolling. Being able to know if the enemy is within 1000 meters of you, is one ability that makes dogs perfect for the military duties of scouting and patrolling. However, they have to first be taught how to work in perfect silence as to not alert possible enemies or intruders.
    The military dog breeds able to accomplish these tasks are highly intelligent, and prone to quietness rather than aggressiveness. Walking in front of the Infantry along with its handler, a military dog gives the “enemy-close” signal by holding its body and tail rigid, while also raising its ears and hackles.
  • Finding casualty. Search and rescue dogs can find victims of war in the most hidden places. They are aided by their incredible sense of smell and hearing, as well as by the fact that they have a mobile spine which allows them to crawl in very narrow spaces. If the casualties are bleeding heavily or if they are in shock, the military dogs which find them can actually make the difference between life and death.
  • Sending messages. Messenger dogs must travel between two places and be very stealth when doing so. Their loyalty is split between handlers, and they have no problem in caring for two humans instead of one. That’s what makes them really valuable in combat conditions.

Military dog breeds

Each military dog breed is trained differently, because they each have their own particular traits, which makes them skilled for specific roles. Whether they can only take on one role, or be used for more purposes, these military dogs go through an extensive selection and training process.

Military dogs infographic

As such, the dogs used for just one purpose come from various sporting breeds, and aren’t very aggressive, although they are very protective. They can be used to detect casualties, narcotics or explosives, as well as the person who hides them. Dual-purpose dogs can do scouting and patrolling, apart from the finding of various chemical substances. There are also the multi-purpose dogs, used in complex operations like parachuting or rappelling. These military dogs can wear various pieces of equipment, such as night-vision or infrared cameras, which gives humans an idea as to what the dogs are seeing.

Mastiffs

This military dog breed has always played an important role in hunting and guarding alongside humans. Various historical sources show they have even been employed in war by ancient civilizations, like the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Babylonians.

Mastiffs guarding

The mastiffs had to protect the camp, but their duties also included attacking the enemies on the battlefield. Their enormous size and strength is what makes their use very appropriate in combat situations.

Greyhounds

Tall and slender the Greyhounds have long and powerful legs, which explains why they’re so good with racing. Being able to reach a whooping speed of 70km/hour, the Greyhounds were particularly trained for hunting. Even though they aren’t used now as military dogs, they were used a few centuries ago.

Greyhound in military service

Even Christopher Columbus had Greyhounds and Mastiffs, which he sicked on the Natives. Many other Spanish conquerors did the same thing. Now, greyhounds are trained as trustworthy service dogs for army officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

German Shepherds

These military dogs are used for search and rescue, and for detecting various explosives or drugs. They have a big size, and they’re quite the athletic type, apart from being full of energy and a really loyal companion.

As their name shows us, they were originally used for herding sheep, but the traits that recommended German Shepherds for that job can be put to good use on the battlefield as well. This military dog breed is particularly agile and obedient, with evolutionary traits specialized on tracking.

German Shepherd in military service

The fact that they’re also highly protective and very intelligent, makes German Shepherds the ideal dog to be trained. Since they need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, these dogs are born to have a job, and their genes turned them into the perfect military dogs.

Airedale Terriers

This particular military dog breed is also very smart, but they tend to be more stubborn, independent and less well-behaved than the German Shepherds. Being very territorial and with a low tolerance for strangers, Airedale Terriers are perfect for scouting and patrolling.

Since they require a lot of exercise, and they are easily trainable, these dogs can become real assets in combat situations.

Airedale Terrier

They’re highly affectionate and rather playful, which means they can also be employed for messenger duties, since they can share their affections between two handlers. Apart from this, Airedale Terriers have also been used for search and rescue in World War I.

Boxer dogs

Another smart, independent and playful military dog breed is represented by boxer dogs. They have a strong hunting instinct, but they also enjoy digging holes. A medium sized dog, the boxer is highly adaptable in new environments and therefore very trainable.

Boxer dog

Given that Boxer Dogs tend to bark a lot, they can be undertake various jobs in the military where signaling various objects is required. That’s why they make great search and rescue dogs, as well as able to detect explosives. Being territorial, they can be used for sentry duties, and their ability to get really affectionate allows them to be great for finding casualty.

Bulldogs

Although they were initially bred to fight bulls at various sporting events, Bulldogs are very loving and playful companions. Short, sturdy dogs, they are easily trained to bring back evidence from the battlefield, as well as to search and rescue for wounded soldiers, especially since they are very loyal and loving.

Bulldog in military service

Nevertheless, Bulldogs aren’t a military dog breed trainable for scouting, patrolling or guarding responsibilities, because they aren’t territorial at all, while also being very friendly to strangers.

Bouvier des Flanders

These dogs are employed in the military thanks to their unique skill of herding cattle, as their actual name tells us. Being able to think for themselves, they are very independent but they also need to have a job. Their guarding instincts, along with their territoriality and trainability, make them very good watchdogs.

Bouvier des Flanders

They’re likewise very loyal, and develop a strong feeling of attachment towards their handlers. This is why they’re amongst the military dog breeds used for search and rescue missions, along with guarding and protecting various objects.

Irish Terriers

When it comes to carrying various messages to and fro, Irish Terriers are the perfect military dogs for the job. As early as the World War I, the loving and fearless Irish Terriers used to carry messages from one place to the other. They love themselves a good chase, and they’re addicted to running.

Irish Terrier in military service

Apart from this, they are quite friendly little chaps which enjoy barking a lot. Although they are very intelligent creatures, they aren’t as easily trained for other duties except delivering messages.

Alaskan Malamutes

This military dog breed was successfully employed by the US military forces during the Second World War as sled-dogs. They are humongous dogs, who eat more than a lot, but they’re also friendly and playful companions. They were especially bred to pull sleds in a very difficult climate, and on dangerous terrains.

Alaskan Malamutes training

Very athletic and muscled, the Alaskan Malamute is one of the military dogs with powerful territorial instincts, which explains its watchdog abilities. They’re also quite skilled when it comes to hunting and barking, but they aren’t particularly trainable for other duties.

Siberian Huskies

These dogs are adaptable, affectionate, intelligent, but on the other hand they’re stranger friendly, they lack territorial instincts and can’t be easily trained. Siberian Huskies were another military dog breed used for pulling sleds in World War II, but since they’re quite independent and inclined to hunting smaller animals, they can’t be used for anything else.

Siberian Huskies

However, since they get along very well with other dogs and since they need a lot of exercise, running and pulling sleds is the perfect job for them.

Labrador Retrievers

These military dogs showed what they could do in the matter of detecting various odors during the Vietnam War. They’re readily trainable and they’re also obedient and adaptable. They can be used for search and rescue missions as well, but they aren’t to be trusted with scouting, patrolling or guarding since they are particularly friendly towards strangers.

Labrador Retrievers in military training

They need to be exercised frequently, and they also have quite stringent social needs, which means they can develop a great sense of attachment for their master.

Moreover, since they have an insulating undercoat, they can survive in various unfavorable climatic conditions, which makes them great for military expeditions.

Military dogs trivia

  • Dogs haven’t been officially recognized as military dogs until World War II.
  • Bouvier des Flanders had to pull ambulance cars during World War I.
  • The Airedale Terriers are one of the first military dog breeds used for police work in Germany and Great Britain.
  • In World War I, Paddy, the Irish Terrier, managed to deliver the appointed message even though he was nearly blinded by gas 10 miles before getting to the destination.
  • Sentry dogs have been trained since 1958.
  • Bulldogs are the mascot for the United States Marine Corps.
  • There are about 2500 dogs in active service at the moment.
  • 700 dogs are currently deployed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Most military dogs are bought from Germany and the Netherlands.
  • A military dog which can detect bombs costs $ 150.000.
  • Only 50% of the dogs selected for military training can complete this process.
  • Military dogs can also develop PTSD.
  • Since they’re selected from the most affectionate breeds, military dogs can experience mourning when their handlers die.
  • Ever since the year 2000, military dogs aren’t abandoned or euthanized after they retire, and can be adopted by civilians.
  • Tens of thousands of people were saved during the wars thanks to military dogs.
About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • anna willard

    We can all do our part in supporting our 4-legged military heroes. There are some organizations like the Dogs on Deployment that need volunteers and other needs. Had the privilege of seeing how they work when we were in Norfolk, Va.
    Our dogs are truly brave and loyal.

  • Emily Parks

    I wish to adopt a military dog after he/she retires from service. It’s a privilege to take care of our country’s finest. They are indeed heroes!

    • They deserve all the love and these dogs can be very loyal and protective after years of training.

  • Mary Ong

    I would want to adopt a retired military dog, but I am afraid they have a lot of behavioral issues. Even they are old, they are still working dogs, and I believe only experienced trainers are capable of dealing with them.

    • A retired military dog has enough experience and behavioral training during its serviceable years. However, military dogs that have been exposed to missions may need more intervention and instructions from the veterinarian and the endorsing dog trainer.

  • Their braveness and loyalty are truly remarkable.

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