Miranda Tomic

Military working dogs have played crucial roles in every US battle since the Civil War to attack, guard, curry, locate enemies, and more. In recent decades, the US military has scaled up its training and utilization of canines for explosive detection, narcotics detection, and patrol purposes. Military canines Opens in a new window go through extensive training in order to perform this important work.

US War Dog Memorial, New Jersey

The primary breeds utilized by the US military are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Doberman Pinschers. Most canines are sourced from Opens in a new window breeders throughout North America, Canada, and Western Europe, however, the military also maintains its own canine breeding program. Training for all military canines is conducted at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, by the 341st Squadron.

On a single day, as many as 108 different dogs Opens in a new windowmay be working and training. The school trains about 300 detection dogs a year Opens in a new window. Once trained and certified, these canines are deployed with their handlers for active duty service on US military bases throughout the world. About 500 dogs Opens in a new window are deployed at any one time creating a total of 2,700 Opens in a new window currently in service.

They possess unique capabilities and provide an invaluable service to our men and women in uniform. Canines are up to 100,000 times Opens in a new window more alert to smells than humans, and are able to detect explosive concentrations as small as two parts per billion Opens in a new window. As stated by General Petraeus Opens in a new window, US Army Retired, “the capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory. Our Army (and military) would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource.” The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a robot nose that would surpass a dog’s ability to sniff out bombs. After 13 years and $19 billion, Lt. Gen. Michael Oates of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Organizations stated, “dogs are the best detectors.”

When on deployment, a canine spends 24 hours a day with his handler and the pair often develops an extremely close bond.  Eventually, the team may be separated at the end of a tour, when a handler is discharged, or when a dog is ready to retire. Since 2000, with the enactment of “Robby’s law,” retired dogs are able to be put up for adoption.  Handlers adopt about 90 percent Opens in a new window. Several of MSA’s former military canine handlers have adopted their canines including Cpl. Megan Leavey Opens in a new window. Civilians are also able to adopt retired canines, however the demand is so high there is a long wait list. “The average wait time for a K-9 to get its new home is about nine days, but the wait list to adopt is more than one year,” says Collen McGee Opens in a new window, chief of public affairs for the 37th Training Wing. “Never is a dog waiting for a home—it is always homes that are waiting for a retiring K-9.” 



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