K-9 Four-Legged Heroes

This past Memorial Day, Americans honored the brave men and women (both past and present) who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. But let’s not forget those four-legged heroes that have made it possible for many of our soldiers to return home safely.

Dogs have been used in warfare since ancient Rome and Greece. The tight bonds these canines form with their masters made them the ideal animal partner during war. The first American-trained warfare dogs were assembled in 1942 (during World War II). There were just nine dogs, but they were crucial to the formation of the U.S. Army Canine (K-9) Corps. Now, there are 2,800 active U.S. military dogs.

How are these four-legged heroes raised?

All of these dogs are trained at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Only certain breeds of dogs are used for their keen sense of smell and their impeccable hearing, like Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors. Through extensive training, these dogs are able to patrol areas, detect bombs and drugs, and track intruders and snipers.

These dogs are crucial to our national security. Cairo, the Navy SEAL dog, played a vital part in the success of the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011. The American Humane Association named Sage, a border collie, a Hero Dog of 2011 for her numerous military missions including searching for captured U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Although these dogs have been training for this job from a young age, the trauma of war can be just as taxing on them as it is for their handlers. Experts say that some of the dogs have developed canine post-traumatic stress disorder after being exposed to extensive “explosions, gunfire, and other combat related violence.” Their temperament changes (they can become timid or unusually aggressive) and must undergo treatment and retraining.

Being a military dog is dangerous and not all of them return home. However, those that do, get a second chance at life. Retired military dogs that pass certain aptitude tests are put up for adoption, with their military handlers getting first priority. These dogs are generally large, older, and may have health complications, but they’re also well-trained and very loyal. If you’re interested in military dog adoption visit the Lackland Base website.