Military Working Dog (MWD) teams -- dogs and handlers -- are in short supply, but they perform a function vital for force protection. An estimated 2,300 working dogs were serving within the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004, the vast majority being German and Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois. These dogs, along with their handlers from every military service, are deployed worldwide to support the war on terror, helping to safeguard military bases and activities and to detect bombs and other explosives before they inflict harm.
The MWD teams are an intregal part of the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, devoting many hours to carrying out all the traditional roles of military dogs. Guard duty is a basic MWD function, but their responsibilities today will include base security, individual and crowd control, tracking, and explosive and narcotic detection. Most dogs are dual-purpose trained: police dogs first, then with a specialty skill such as bomb detection.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, several hundred Military Working Dogs perform their duties in heat and sandstorms, just like their handlers and other soldiers. Heat exhaustion is a major concern and there must be frequent breaks and ample water to cope with it. In 2004, civilian volunteers worked with the military to provide Doogles and other comfort items for the MWDs to protect them and make them more effective (photo above, left).
Another issue is access to veternarians. Only a few are deployed with U.S. forces and they are thinly spread. The armed services cooperate so an USAF dog may be treated by a Navy Corpsman.
Additional information about working dogs in today's military is found on these Olive-Drab pages:
Typical of the use of MWDs on U.S. military bases, the Provost Marshal’s Office (PMO) at Quantico has a six-dog K-9 section. Each K-9 is dual tasked to provide detection in either narcotics or explosives, while maintaining their capabilities as a patrol dog. Other missions include:
Supports Command Authorized Vehicle Inspections.
Conducts demonstrations exhibiting the capabilities of the Military Working Dogs.
Supports United States Secret Service Presidential missions.
Retirement of Military Working Dogs
For decades, veteran dogs deemed too old to serve (ten years and older) were euthanized, but that has changed under a law passed in 2000. Now retired military dogs are allowed to be adopted by their current or former handlers, law enforcement agencies, or individuals capable of caring for them. This is a change welcomed by all in the Military Working Dog family, allowing service dogs to live out their days with loving families who respect their years of service.
Air Force Warrior Jake
Jake, the only beagle in the U.S. Air Force K-9 corps, is not famous, but is a typical representative of today's Military Working Dog, unsung heros of operations all over the globe.
Jake did a tour at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, then spent more than six years sniffing for explosives with the 65th Security Forces Squadron at Lajes Field, on the Azores island of Terceira, Portugal. He was due to retire in 2001, but after the terrorist attacks of 11 September the Air Force’s Stop-Loss program — designed to retain experienced people, and dogs — kept him on the job, working 14 hour days on security patrol. He finally retired in October 2002 due to his age, cataracts and hearing loss. Jake’s squadron gave him a retirement ceremony, where he received a certificate for his long service.
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