Dogs have fought alongside man since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and others used dogs as sentries and scouts and sometimes brought dogs into combat. Attila the Hun used fierce Mastiff-like breeds that were sometimes armored and sent into battle.
In more modern times, Germany created military dog-training programs late in the 19th century, and European armies used dogs during World War I to find wounded soldiers, carry supplies, and as messengers. Although dogs have worked alongside soldiers since the Civil War in the U.S., it wasn’t until World War II that the first K-9 corps was created. Today, military working dogs are a vital part of the armed forces, both in the U.S. and around the world. But unlike in earlier times, these dogs are treated as valuable and respected assets, soldiers on four legs.
The U.S. military uses dogs in all branches of the service, and there are currently more than 1,500 Military War Dogs either in the field or helping recuperate veterans. Dogs are trained for specific jobs, including tracking, explosive detection, patrol, search and rescue, and attack. Their work is invaluable, and it’s no wonder that these dogs are precious resources.
In fact, they’re in such high demand that there is currently a scarcity of trained Military Working Dogs (MWD). According to Air Force statistics, the number of dogs is about 38 percent lower than during the height of the war in Afghanistan.
Caring for these dogs in the field is a major concern. Typically, a dog’s handler has been completely responsible for his care, including veterinary first aid should the dog be wounded in the field. Now, the Department of Defense is taking steps to ensure that these canine heroes get the care they need, both immediately in the field and beyond.
The Pentagon has purchased about 80 lifelike canine mannequins to train medics how to care for canine soldiers in the field. The K9Hero, developed by an Atlanta defense contractor, weighs about 50 pounds and is fully articulated. Even more incredible, it “breathes” via an internal inflatable bag, has a pulse, and is built to have a variety of afflictions. It can even “bleed” profusely with the use of a remote control. The contractor is also developing an animatronic dog specifically for the special forces; it has limbs that can be amputated, gunshot wounds, and also whimpers and barks. Each of these high-tech training mannequins costs the government about $20,000. But the price is well worth it when you consider that by some estimates, one military dog saves the lives of 150-200 soldiers.
The Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program is based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where both pups and handlers are trained, costing about $42,000 and taking roughly three months. As an article in “Bloomberg” put it, “a fully trained military dog costs about as much as a small missile. ”
Unlike in ancient times, when a dog was merely a weapon, Military Working Dogs today are seen by the troops as fellow warriors, deserving the same quality of care and medical attention as their human counterparts. Training medics how to treat wounded working dogs in real-life situations ensures that these canine heroes are getting the respect and care they have so bravely earned.