Sit. Stay. Heel. Find it.
These are common dog commands, though unless your dog is a military working dog, or MWD, you might be less familiar with “find it.” For MWDs, “find it” is all in a day’s work of sniffing out improvised explosive devices (IEDs), drugs and other substances.
Although it’s well-known that dogs support our troops today, did you know the U. S. military has relied on the skills and service of dogs since the Civil War? Although no formal canine program existed at that time, dogs have been helping keep their human counterparts safe for more than 150 years.
On March 13 each year, we honor and remember the service and sacrifices of American military dogs throughout our nation’s history.
How did this day of honor come about? Joe White of Jacksonville, Florida, felt it was fitting to honor our MWDs. Mr. White was a Vietnam War veteran and a K9 handler and trainer. He chose to designate March 13 as K9 Veterans Day because on this date in 1942, the Army initiated its formal War Dog Program. They called these special troops the K9 Corps, officially acknowledging dogs as members of the U.S. Armed Forces for the first time.
A Brief History of Military Working Dogs
Though evidence of the use of dogs during military campaigns goes back as far as the mid-7th century BCE, in the United States, their history began in the Civil War. They carried crucial information across enemy lines, they served as prison guards, plus they were morale-boosting companions.
During WWI, dogs continued to play a crucial role. The demand was so great that American families began donating their dogs to the war effort.
With the creation of the K9 Corps during WWII, the Army’s Dogs for Defense program trained 10,000 dogs who had again been donated to the war effort by American families.
The Korean War triggered a new need for military working dogs, where they were used primarily on combat night patrols. They managed to ambush snipers, penetrate enemy lines and sniff out enemy positions.
During the Vietnam War, about 5,000 MWDs served in-country. They were given roles such as scout, sentry, patrol, and mine and booby-trap detection, saving about 10,000 lives.
Their importance continued during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Estimates suggest that nearly 2,500 dogs were employed by the U.S. military during those conflicts.
Military Dogs Today
MWDs are as important as ever today. Approximately 3,000 are deployed around the world in a variety of key roles. Dogs are members of the military, U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, police K9 units, and federal law enforcement.
Our military war dogs undergo intensive training with the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Each dog is trained in a specialty based on abilities and strengths.
Show Your Appreciation for our MWDs
If you’d like to honor our military working dogs, consider these ideas:
- Raise awareness on social media. Create your own posts on social media about March 13. Be sure to use #NationalK9VeteransDay or #K9VeteransDay.
- Make a donation to a charity that supports K9 veterans.
- Do you know a retired K9 veteran? If so, lucky you! Consider marking the day with a gift of treats or a toy.
USBA is a not-for-profit Association that provides group life insurance, health insurance supplements, and other products and services to military personnel, Federal employees, National Guard and Reserve members, Veterans and their families.