Bomb-Sniffing and Skydiving Dogs: Our Military Working Dogs

Sergeant Stubby. Chips. Lucca. Nemo. Lex. These names may not be familiar to most people, but on this Veterans Day, we want to stop and honor them. They’re just a few of the brave dogs that serve and have served as part of our military, as military working dogs, and they’re each responsible for saving hundreds of lives.

Skydiving dog.While the “war dogs” of history were often used for their ferocity, the majority of today’s military working dogs (MWDs) use their sniffing talents for detecting explosives or narcotics, and sometimes the people that planted them. Other modern military dogs do patrol work and scouting, or – like Cairo, the SEAL team dog – are multi-purpose, special operations dogs that can be used in rappelling or skydiving operations. (Yes. You read that right. Skydiving dogs.)

Just like our human soldiers, military working dogs undergo extensive training to be able to do their duties. In fact, they’re bred to be military dogs and start their training at 7-9 months. The most commonly used breeds are German & Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Selection is based on dogs’ perfect health as well as focused, aggressive behavior, sense of smell, and a desire to work for reward (usually a Kong, a ball or simply lots of praise). Once selected for training, dogs are sent to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. After they turn a year old, the dogs are certified (if they pass all their training) and deployed. Their military working years can last until they’re 7-10 years old, depending on a number of different circumstances. While on deployment, MWDs may work with multiple handlers through the years and develop very close bonds with each of them. The strong feelings are often mutual, and MWD handlers welcome care packages for their dogs just as much as for themselves. If you’re interested in helping out by sending some much needed items (for both dogs and handlers), you can take a look at the US War Dogs website here.

Retired military working dog.Once a dog is retired a former handler may adopt him, he can go on to work in law enforcement, or the general public can adopt him. About 90% of retired military working dogs are adopted by their former handlers or their families. Life as an MWD is hard and often dangerous, but retirement can bring its own set of unique challenges for these canine veterans. Just like their human counterparts, MWDs can return from service with canine PTSD (about 5% of them), physical injuries and other health issues. On the plus side, while the wait list for the general public to adopt a retired MWD can be more than a year long, the dogs themselves seldom wait more than a couple of weeks for their new homes. Happily for these dogs, the demand far exceeds their supply!

Of course, not all of us can adopt a retiring military dog, but there are other ways we can help out our troops and veterans (in addition to sending them care packages)! Dogs on Deployment is an organization dedicated to ensuring our active troops don’t have to give up their pets to shelters or new owners when they’re deployed to active duty. Instead, this non-profit network helps locate foster families who can take care of military pets during their owner’s deployment. In addition, SPCA-International has two programs – Operation Military Pets and Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide – that help keep military families and their pets together.

For more information about military working dogs, check out these links:

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