More likely than not, March 13 comes and goes each year with little or no recognition for the fact that it’s National K9 Veterans Day — a day set aside each year to honor and commemorate the service and sacrifices of American military working dogs. “It was on March 13, 1942 that the Army began training for its new War Dog Program, also known as the ‘K-9 Corps,’ according to American Humane, marking the first time dogs were officially a part of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Today’s military dogs are valued as important members of their military units. They have a special place in the hearts of the troops who work with them and they are treated with the same honor and respect as any other service member. They hold a rank higher than their handler to ensure the handler treats them properly. Military ceremonies are conducted when they receive awards and they are buried with military honors.
The 341st Training Squadron Training Team, Joint-Base San Antonio, Texas, conducts the 120-day training program that teaches the dogs basic obedience as well as more advanced skills, such as how to attack and how to sniff for specific substances. Once the dogs are trained, members of the 37th Security Forces teach the dogs and their trainers how to work as a team.
An estimated 2,300 military working dogs, along with their handlers, are deployed worldwide to support the war on terror, help safeguard military bases and activities, and work to detect bombs and other explosives. The vast majority of U.S. military working dogs are German and Dutch shepherds, and Belgian Malinois breeds. Because so much is expected of them, they must be “very aggressive, very smart, very loyal and very athletic because that’s what the job demands.” In addition to their keen sense of smell, they have the ability to inflict fear in an aggressor and they will defend their handler to the end.
Although research is under way to create what is called an “artificial nose” capable of duplicating a dog’s sense of smell, “dogs possess something a machine never will — immense loyalty and a desire to please. A machine doesn’t care if it finds something, but a dog wants to please its handler. A dog will go looking for something on its own, whereas a machine won’t. And dogs have a heart — something that makes them an invaluable asset to our fighting forces.”
Note: For more information about military working dogs, check out the resources used for this blog post: “The Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Program” by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Services, March 9, 2018; National K9 Veterans Day, Military.com; and 341st Training Squadron – 37th Training Wing – AF.mil.