War Dogs: what you need to know about dogs in the military

Dogs are used all over the U.S. military. Since the beginning of civilization, humans have used dogs in active military service for their superior sight and smell abilities.  They have roles everywhere from the Air Force, to the Navy Seals, to the Marine Corps. These four-legged heroes not only help in detection and attack, but man's best friend also plays an even larger role in boosting morale and providing therapy to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some military working dogs (MWD, for short) even become a mascot for troops to rally behind. 

German Shepard Military k9 - military dogs

Dog's Many Roles:

Sentry dogs:

These military k9's are trained to warn and defend the camp against intruders. When the patrol dogs notice an unrecognized individual or group, they are trained to bark or growl and the intruders. This allows the dog’s patrolling handler to quickly assess the situation and call for reinforcements if needed.

Scout dogs:

Military working dog handlers help army dogs detect enemies - military dog breeds

Scout dogs are used to help detect mines, booby traps, or enemy forces. These tracking dogs are usually chosen for their high intelligence and stealth skills. They can detect threats up to 3,000 feet away and stand alert till their handlers have dealt with the threat.

Messenger dogs:

This role requires the dogs to be extremely loyal to two different handlers. They would be tasked to transfer messages, equipment, or even the injured between their handlers. Messengers are usually fast, silent, and known to take advantage of natural cover.

Casualty dogs:

Also known as search and rescue dogs, these military dogs are able to find casualties or injured individuals in battlefields and rubble. Dogs have an advantage to go to places that are normally not accessible or find parts that are hard to locate. They have been able to help save individuals who would have died if they were not quickly found.

Drug Detection dogs:

These dogs are used by law enforcement officials to detect drugs. These police dogs are generally placed in airports, checkpoints, borders, or wherever drug trafficking is suspected. They have the ability to detect even the smallest traces of drugs.

Breeds Used:

When dogs were first officially used by the United States in World War II, over 30 breeds were used. In modern warfare, only 5 military dog breeds are regularly used: German Shepherd dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Giant Schnauzers, Belgian Sheepdogs, and Short Haired Farm Collies. These breeds were chosen because they proved to be very loyal, intelligent, trainable, and athletic. Other breeds are also used depending on the situation. Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are used in colder climates as sled dogs. Golden and Labrador Retrievers are used in odor detection and as service dogs for vets.

training regimen armored dogs for military combat

Regardless of the breed, many military working dog handlers must train hard with their dogs from the time they are puppies. Just like the rest of the military, they have to wear protection, so these recruits leave boot camp as fully armored dogs!


What happens to retired military dogs? Up until the year 2000 and several activist protests, these dogs were either euthanized or forced to stay in the military after their service. Now most these dogs can return to their families or are adopted by their handlers during the war. Some military bases, like the Lackland Air Force base, have regular adoptions opportunities for retired MWDs. After some dog training, they may also transition into becoming therapy dogs or service dogs for veterans. Some war dogs may also develop PTSD just like their human counterparts. This can cause them to become increasingly skittish or prone to nightmares. This makes them extremely reactive to things like gunshots. Regardless of their past professions, protect your doggie during times like hunting season and keep them safe!

Famous Dogs of War:


Cairo the war dog

...accompanied SEAL Team Six on their mission that killed Osama bin Laden. This special forces dog was likely brought along for his strong sense of smell for explosives and training instinct to attack anyone with a weapon. On a similar note, dogs also played a vital role in the capture of Saddam Hussein as they were able to find him, even several feet underground.


Beloved WWII dog Chips - military working dogs

...was the most decorated of all army dogs in WWII for his efforts in France, Germany, Sicily, and North Africa. He was remembered for his attack on an armed italian nest and assisting with the capture of 10 enemy captives. He was also decorated with the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star.


Vietnam War German Shepard Kaiser - special forces dog

...was a German Shepard who served in the Vietnam War. Kaiser and his handler participated in over 30 combat patrols and 12 major operations. He was killed during an ambush while licking his handler's wounded hand.


Retired military dogs: Nemo the one-eyed dog - military dog names

... was a one-eyed dog that also served in the Vietnam War. After his handler was shot, Nemo gallantly attacked the assailants and allowed his handler just enough time to call for reinforcements. As his handler became unconscious, Nemo continued to protect him by crawling on top of his body, not letting anyone touch him. Both eventually recovered.

Dogs have been part of the military since ancient times. There are over 2000 dogs in active service today in the United States alone. These dogs are extremely talented and go through a lot of training to be able to take part of the military. In addition to their superior bloodhound sense of smell and their sense of loyalty, they provide a sense of comfort to the soldiers.

War dogs have saved so many lives and are often the unsung heroes of war. If you know a dog veteran, don't forget to thank them!

    Stephanie Wong

    Written by

    Stephanie Wong

    The Team is dedicated to providing the highest quality pet doors. As dog and cat lovers ourselves, we aim to write about the topics that matter the most to you and your furry friend. If you have any questions, please contact our customer service team. 🐶🐱

    The Team is dedicated to providing the highest quality pet doors. As dog and cat lovers ourselves, we aim to write about the topics that matter the most to you and your furry friend. If you have any questions, please contact our customer service team. 🐶🐱

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