The war on terror has brought back military dogs in a big way. Nearly two thousand are in service with American troops. The uses are many, and include patrolling, narcotics and explosives (and land mine) search. For most dogs, it takes nearly a year, and some $60,000, to train them to perform useful military skills. The U.S. Army just issued a new Field Manual on military working dogs. Several hundred military dogs are currently used in combat zones, mainly Iraq.
War Dogs are an ancient military practice. But for thousands of years, the dogs were used mainly for helping guard the camp, and for helping out in combat. But in the last century, as warfare changed, so did the use of dogs. They were used to carry messages during World War I, but by World War II were also trained for patrolling, delivering messages in combat, detecting mines and crowd control. Most were still used for guard duty. During World War II, some 10,425 dogs were taken into U.S. military service, with another 1.500 mobilized for the Korean war and, in the Vietnam war, some 4,000 dogs were trained. In Vietnam 281 were killed in combat. The marines used 327 dogs in the Pacific during World War II, and 29 died in battle. The troops in the Pacific, both during World War II and Vietnam, found the dogs particularly useful for detecting enemy ambushes during patrols. The dogs could detect enemy troops up to a thousand meters away. In Iraq, the dogs are very useful for guarding bases, guarding prisoners, finding bombs and hidden enemy troops.
In Iraq, a seven pound flak jacket was developed for dogs used in dangerous situations. Costing about a thousand dollars each, the Kevlar protective vests protect the dogs from stab wounds, shell fragments and some bullets. The K-9 Protective Vests weigh about seven pounds, which for a 90 pound German Shepard, is about the same burden as the 17 pound vest worn by the heavier marines. The K-9 vests have some special features as well. There are compartments on the inside of the vests for the insertion of cold packs (soft, flat plastic bags containing a chemical that, when activated, becomes very cool). Since dogs do not deal with heat as effectively as humans (dogs dont sweat), and Iraq is a very warm place in the Summer, the cold packs can prevent heat stroke. There are also attachments on the vest to enable the dog to be dropped by parachute, or hauled up via a rope. The vests hinder the dogs mobility a bit, especially when they are jumping. But the dogs have quickly adjusted to the vests.
After World War II, until 2000, when the law was changed, military dogs were used until they were about ten years old, then killed. It was thought that the retired military dogs could not adapt to family life. But decades of police, and some military experience, with dogs living safely with their handlers and family members finally caused the policy to be changed. Dog handlers had long urged that retired dogs be allowed to stay with their handlers, or be put up for adoption.