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A Brief History of Dogs in Warfare

March 11, 2014

Dogs have a long and noble history working alongside human beings in theaters of war. Since the dawn of civilization, many cultures have taken advantage of dogs’ intelligence and bravery. Accounts from ancient Rome, for example, describe battle dogs outfitted with coats of mail.

While Americans have used dogs in military action as far back as the Revolutionary War, it wasn’t until World War II that they were fully permitted to show what they could do. Dogs served in Pacific Island jungle climates, in Europe, and in Alaska. During the Vietnam conflict, American troops relied on their canine companions to stand guard, scout, track, and identify enemies and sources of water. As many as 5,000 dogs served during that period.

Today, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, trains military service dogs for all branches of the United States Armed Forces through the Military Dog Working program. Currently, more than 2,000 dogs work in the military.

With a sense of smell that can be 10 times stronger than a human being’s, a trained dog can detect miniscule amounts of explosives and quickly communicate that information to his or her human handler. Dogs can also create a strong psychological response in potential attackers, inspiring enough fear to cause an attacker to retreat. In addition, a dog can pursue a fleeing attacker and immobilize him until human reinforcements arrive. Moreover, as every handler who has developed a deep bond with a military dog knows, dogs are unreservedly loyal in protecting their human counterparts.

Sadly, some of the dogs that have served so honorably in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, like their human companions, begun to suffer from post-traumatic stress. Still, even when the U.S. began to remove troops from Iraq, commanders did not forget the value of dogs to a strong peacekeeping force. They chose to keep a number of military dogs and their handlers in Iraq to assist local forces.


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