26 August 2020
14 Fun Facts You May Not Know About Military Working Dogs

This National Dog Day, AFE remembers our brave K-9 heroes who put their lives on the line to keep our US Military safe.


As the saying goes, every dog has its day. In this case, that day is August 26th, which marks National Dog Day.
At AFE, we think it’s important to look back in recognition of the hardworking dogs of the US Military. Military Working Dogs (MWDs) have served alongside soldiers in every major conflict since the birth of our great nation, but they haven’t always gotten the recognition they deserve.

From detecting landmines and IEDs with just a few sniffs, to fearlessly charging into the heat of battle to incapacitate enemy combatants, the role of dogs in the military can often be overlooked. More than just working dogs, MWDs are dedicated companions, accomplished heroes, and Purple Heart recipients.

We honor the life and service of MWDs such as Buck, who gave the ultimate sacrifice this August after 5 years of service at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristan Campbell)


To celebrate this National Dog Day, we’re throwing you a bone with these fun facts you may not know about the furriest members of the US Military. Plus, find out ways to help out our favorite furry service members and veterans.

1. United States Military Working Dogs are part of the… Air Force?

It may come as a surprise, but the United States Air Force is the executive agent for the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program. The 341st Training Squadron, based out of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, is responsible for procuring, training, and assigning all K-9 dogs from the MWD program, and escort them all over the world following their training. And yes, for those interested, Puppy Development Specialist is a real and important job title.


2. “Guten Tag!” A vast majority of military working dogs are born overseas

Overall, about 85% of military working dogs are purchased from specialized breeders in Germany and the Netherlands, but 15% are still born and raised in the US by the 341st training squadron’s training program.

MWD Ben with Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Taylor training at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Image via DoD)

3. Every new puppy goes through a 5-month military dog foster program!

At the age of eight weeks, future military dogs are placed in dedicated foster homes in the San Antonio/Austin area. Foster volunteers are charged with training and nurturing puppies over a five-month commitment period, from 6 weeks to 7 months old.

Interested in becoming a puppy foster parent someday? To qualify for the foster program, foster must live within a 2-hour drive to Lackland Air Force Base, you must have a well-maintained back yard with a fence, and you must not have any children younger than 5 years of age. Interested applicants can visit the 341st Training Squadron website.

MWDs sure do love Kong-style rubber toys! (Image via DoD)


4. Sniffer dogs used for detection are usually sporting dog breeds

Dogs have a literally superhuman sense of smell, with ten to twenty times the number of receptors on their nose. With little or no wind, a dog has the ability to detect intruders using its senses of smell and hearing.
Many military working dogs are trained for one purpose: sniffing out explosives or narcotics, but not both.
Dogs don’t need to be close to detect a bomb or IED inside a vehicle–often dogs can signal a bomb’s presence from 50 feet away. By doing so, these heroic dogs can approach and search an object, without putting handlers or fellow soldiers in harm’s way.

Dog breeds used for sniffing and odor detection are usually sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. However, Poodles and Jack Russell Terriers are also commonly enlisted for their excellent noses.

MWD Aci with handler Rachel Higuera during detection training. (Image via DoD)

5. Multi-use and Security MWDs are usually shepherding breeds

German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois make the top of the list for tactical MWDs.
While German Shepherds are larger and more muscular, the Malinois does not lack in the strength department. Their smaller size is perfect for tactics involving parachuting and rappelling. Over the years, the compact Malinois has become a favorite of the US Navy Seals and other elite forces around the world.

Training is ‘ruff’ work (Image via DoD)

6. MWDs receive highly valuable training, with bomb detection training worth over $150,000

While the average cost for training a military dog ranges from $20,000 to $40,000, preparing a dog to be an explosives detection expert may cost over $150,000.

Typical training scenarios might include having to detect explosives in a caravan of 10 or more vehicles, with decoys such as sausages and bacon set up to create distracting stimuli. Under these conditions, a trained detection dog would be able to detect an explosive in under two minutes.

Vito, an Air Force Patrol Explosive Dog (Image via DoD)

7. Only about 50% of dogs in the MWD program make it through training

Dog noses save lives, but the dogs they’re attached to must also be absolutely obedient, disciplined, and loyal.
In addition, the dogs must be free of physical issues, such as hip dysplasia.
Today there are over 1,600 Military Working Canines working at US and Allied installations around the world.

MWD Rocky and handler Air Force Staff Sgt. Samantha Frydenlund aims at a target during a “Top Dog” competition at Joint Base Andrews, MD. (Image via DoD)

8. Every military working dog is a non-commissioned officer, in tradition

Military working dogs are always one rank higher than their handlers. NCO status was originally given to military dogs as a custom to prevent handlers from abusing or mistreating their dogs.
These honorary ranks reinforce the dog and handler bond as a sacred, respectful relationship.

9. Dogs have been jumping out of planes since the 1940s

Did you know that dogs have been parachuting since the 1940s? Check out this amazing archival footage via Smithsonian, showing how parachuting dogs were used to rescue plane crash victims in the Arctic.


10. Field medics are being trained to handle K-9 injuries in the heat of battle

Until recently, medics have not been able to immediately treat MWDs injured in the line of duty, but the latest in medical training protocols have begun to focus more on MWDs as treatable soldiers in the heat of battle.
According to Army Capt. Gina Cipolla in Fort Polk, LA, modern medics “have to get past the initial thought that they don’t know what to do with a dog. We try to help teach that a dog is essentially a human with different anatomy. There are some slight differences but we would treat them the same as an injured Soldier.”

MWD Oscar receives a regular check-up. Image via DoD

11. The first dog to ever earn rank was Sergeant Stubby

Sgt. Stubby was a brindle bull terrier mutt who served as the mascot for the 102nd infantry regiment in WW1.
Stubby served as a critical member of the 26th Yankee division, saving multiple soldiers from mustard gas attacks and helping the wounded in more than 17 battles.

In his most daring feat, Stubby caught a German soldier who had infiltrated US-controlled territory to map trench layouts and troop positions. In a flash, Stubby took the intruder by the leg, incapacitating the enemy combatant until US forces could arrive. For his heroism, Stubby was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Sergeant Stubby in his full regalia. Source: Public Domain

12. The Most Decorated MWD in WW2 was named Chips!

Chips was a German Shepherd-Collie-Husky Mix who Served in the 3rd Infantry Division with his handler, Pvt. John P. Rowell. As DoD-trained sentry dogs, Chips would tour North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany.
Among Chip’s greatest exploits was the time that he famously broke away from his handler and jumped into an Italian machine-gun nest during the invasion of Sicily.
Injured from Chip’s attacks, the four Italian gunners inside were forced to flee their position and were captured by US forces. Chips successfully made it out of the altercation with a scalp wound and minor gunpowder burns. Later that day, Chip would assist in the capture of 10 more Italian soldiers.

Chips, the Dog Hero of the 3rd Infantry Division U.S. Army Photo

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, eight Battle Stars, and the Purple Heart for his bravery; however, US Army policy at the time prohibited official dog commendations.

Chips would later go on to meet President Eisenhower himself, although Chips did nip the President’s hand when Ike went to pet him–a reminder that you shouldn’t pet trained working dogs unless you’re the dog’s handler.

13. Legendary Dog Rin Tin Tin was actually a rescued war dog from WW1

Rin Tin Tin was found by Corporal Lee Duncan in Lorraine, France following a bombing of a German war-dog kennel in World War 1. The only survivors of the blast were a litter of seven German Shepherd puppies, of which Duncan adopted two: Rin Tin Tin and his sister.

Rin Tin Tin would go on to star in over 30 movies during the golden age of silent movies in the 1920s and 1930s.

Photo of Rin Tin Tin from the 1929 film Frozen River

14. Interested in sponsoring or adopting a former military service dog? You can adopt

Are you looking for an extremely loyal and talented animal companion? Although over 90% of MWDs are adopted by their handlers, there are still many retired service dogs in search of loving homes, especially dogs unable to fulfill the requirements of training. Military dogs are amazing at what they do, but keep in mind that these breeds are high-octane and require the utmost care and attention.

Visit the US War Dogs Association Adoption Site and Mission K9 Rescue today to find out how you can help these furry veterans find a new home.


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