Dogs have been associated with the U.S. Army since its inception, but their role was primarily that of a mascot or in some other unofficial capacity. Not until World War II did the Army make the connection official. In January 1942, members of the American Kennel Club and other dog lovers formed a civilian organization called Dogs for Defense. They intended to train dogs to perform sentry duty for the Army along the coast of the United States. Aware of this effort, Lt. Col. Clifford C. Smith, chief of the Plant Protection Branch, Inspection Division, Quartermaster Corps, met with his commander, Maj. Gen. Edmund B. Gregory, and suggested that the Army use the sentry dogs at supply depots. Gregory gave his approval to an experimental program, and on March 13, 1942, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson approved Gregory’s application and created the K-9 Corps.
Check out these facts about the K-9 Corps and military dogs:
- The K-9 Corps initially accepted for training thirty-two breeds of dogs. By 1944, that list had been reduced to seven: German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Belgian sheep dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs and Malamutes.
- The Quartermaster Corps experimented with training dogs to locate casualties on the battlefield. Dogs were first tested for this at Carlisle Barracks on May 4, 1944. Ultimately, the Army abandoned this program because the dogs did not or could not make a distinction between men not wounded, men who had received wounds, or men who had died.
- Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the Soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River.
- The top canine hero of World War II was Chips, a German Shepherd who served with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handlers and attacked an enemy machine gun nest in Italy, forcing the entire crew to surrender. The wounded Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and the Purple Heart–all of which were later revoked due to an Army policy preventing official commendation of animals.
- After World War II, the Military Police Corps took over responsibility for training military dogs. They have continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts.
- It is estimated that the Army employed 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War.
- Gabe, a retired military dog who completed more than 200 combat missions in Iraq, was named American Hero Dog of 2012 at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Los Angeles.
- Every military working dog is a noncommissioned officer – in tradition at least. Some say the custom was to prevent handlers from mistreating their dogs; hence, a dog is always one rank higher than its handler.
What do you love most about military dogs? Tell us in the comments section.