Military and Law Enforcement Working Dogs

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Belgian Malinois are an excellent breed for combat, but not the only breed. Some individual dogs of many other breeds can make excellent military working dogs.

Military Working dogs are highly trained. Today’s military working dogs test at a 95% or higher accuracy rate on all tasks, according to an article in The Army Times. Military working dogs may detect several thousand unexploded IED’s (improvised explosive devices), during a single deployment cycle, saving countless lives.

Depending upon their branch of the military, and the purpose the dog is trained for, such as IED bomb detection, search and rescue, cadaver finding, and many other tasks, Military Working Dogs are heroes! Some have to jump out of helicopters, dive into water, travel through all-terrain, be eternally vigilant, have steadfast dedication to their handler, have unbelievable courage, attack when asked to -- and play and comfort the human team when they're off duty.

In some cases, a combat team is able to adopt a local abandoned street dog -- or the dog adopts a soldier! This dog can do so much to raise spirits and help reduce stress, and combat companions are emotional lifesavers. Here is a story about a Blackhawk Soldier who rescued a dog in Iraq and was able to get his dog home thanks to assistance from a local SPCA.

Navy Seal K-9 Program

Belgian Malinois Dogs are a very common breed for military and law enforcement. Some of these retired dogs have become companion animals for veterans and allow them to have more normal lives. The video below shows how some of these retired dogs are changing the lives of veterans.

Col John Smith says, "Military Working Dogs and Horses have a long and honorable history of supporting combat operations." But they were not always treated well, and this is an area where greater education and policy change needs to occur. For example, 4,000 German Shepherds were left behind to fend for themselves when the U.S. military left Vietnam.

Even in this current war, dogs have been viewed as property, and when a canine handler, who has developed an intense and profound bond with his dog is sent home, he often just has to hand over the dog to a new person. This can be heartbreaking for the dog and the serviceman who have developed the deepest bond there is. There are now a few non-profit organizations that are attempting to assist to reunite retired teams.

Here is a story about Sgt. Henderson who was able to get his canine combat partner, K-9 Satan, back. The Army had given the dog away to another family, but finally, with help, Sgt. Henderson got to be reunited with his Army Canine buddy.

Some people wonder if Combat Dogs can adapt to a loving family and home environment. The answer is Yes! They have been brothers in combat, and now they can learn to have a happy, retired life. And they deserve to have this love and joy and playful retirement. Dogs are very adaptable, and with love and the right environment, they can learn how to enjoy a very different life.

K-9 TSA Bomb Detection Dogs

Airports use Law Enforcement Canines for a variety of functions, detecting contraband, bomb detection, and many other purposes. While it is impossible to train a dog to detect all possible forms of explosives, these airport canines can go a long way to detecting and deterring crime. Their incredible noses can find things that no human checker could detect. These dogs can be almost any breed, but some breeds are ideally suited to specific tasks. If a dog will be having a lot of interaction with the public, sometimes a labrador is the right choice, as most people will not be too intimidated by the presence of this calm dog. But here is a story about a Vishla, which is not as common, but it goes to show that every dog is a unique individual, and you never know until you give him or her a chance to reveal what their gifts are.

Many dogs in combat situations also provide another invaluable service. They bring comfort, pleasure, and peace to the troops they work with. In another blog on Canine Companions in Combat I explore Army medical research into the important “secondary” function of dogs in combat, to save lives and to save souls.

The video below shows the deep bond between a military working dog and his or her trainer.

Law Enforcement Canines

Most countries utilize K-9’s or law enforcement dogs. This is not a new idea. Dogs have been used for law enforcement since at least the Middle Ages where bloodhounds were used for hunting down outlaws. Here are some examples of the modern use of K-9's.

Disaster Response Dogs and Search and Rescue Work.

SAR Dogs played a huge role in 9-11 rescue teams.

Canines are an integral part of modern law enforcement. They are deployed to track humans in disaster areas, or for missing children, and elders with dementia, who have wandered off. They are used to detect the presence of drugs, cell phones, and contraband. Because of their excellent noses, their abilities outstrip a human’s by a hundredfold.

SAR dogs in 9-11 showed their tireless work ethic.

Specially trained disaster response dogs go into situations of crisis such as right after 9-11. They found – those who were alive and rescuable, and those who are deceased. They help determine priorities in a crisis. They are invaluable in these situations, where every moment counts, and when rescue worker’s resources are often stretched to capacity.

Volunteer SAR Dogs

In addition to professional law enforcement canine teams, some areas have volunteer handler teams. In this case, it is a private person, with a dog who is motivated to search, has the right temperament, discipline, and has an excellent nose! These teams go through extensive training and evaluation. But the dog stays at home with their human, which is a very good quality of life for the dog. This allows them to work "as a reward," and enjoy all the comforts of home during downtime.

Dogs in Search and Rescue can do things that humans can't do, or can't do as quickly and efficiently. In an emergency, every moment counts. With an amazing nose, the dog can lead firefighters or first responders to where a human might be unconscious and silent. Again the handler team and the dog are so totally in sync, that they work together with total precision and accuracy. These dogs train continually so that their skills stay sharp. This is the story about a former hunting dog, who had too much energy, barked too much, and thus was surrendered. Fortunately, he has found his true purpose as a search and rescue dog.

Dogs used in search and rescue work are trained for specific tasks. Because their sense of smell can be 100,000 times better than a human's, they are ideally suited for this task. Dogs capture the scent of a human from microscopic tissue particles that each of us continually sheds. These particles become airborne and disburse the scent through the air like a cloud of smoke. Air scenting dogs are used to search for missing persons or people who might be trapped. Depending on the conditions, these dogs can pick up the scent in the air over a quarter-mile away. They can find people who are buried under rubble or even victims under water.

Cadaver dogs are trained to search for bodies above or below ground. Tracking dogs can follow the tracks of a person and determine where they went. "Mantrackers” are dogs who can be given something to sniff that came from the person for whom they are searching. They can differentiate between the person they are tasked to find and countless other individuals who may be present in a crowded area.

Any number of breeds with good noses could become a great search and rescue dog if they have the right temperament and proper training. These dogs need to learn to follow their nose and ignore sights, sounds, and other distractions. During Search and Rescue training, dogs are taught small skills, incrementally. Each skill is rewarded until it becomes a multi-step task. Some dogs like affection or approval as a reward, others play with a coveted toy, like a kong (a tough rubber chew toy) or rope toy. Good search and rescue dogs have great work ethics and are highly motivated.

Rip- A Terrier and World War II Canine Hero

Rip, a Terrier, from World War II who found bodies.

“Rip, a mixed-breed terrier was the first of his kind when he began his work in 1940. Found in Poplar, London by Air Raid Warden E. King following a heavy bombing raid, he was thrown scraps and adopted. He was quickly made the mascot of the Southill Street Air Raid Patrol." (See article in the U.K.'s Daily Mail, link below).

"He began acting as an unofficial rescue dog, able to sniff out those trapped beneath buildings, and became the service's first search and rescue dog. Rip was not trained to do search and rescue work, but instantly showed a talent for locating people buried in bomb debris. “It wasn't a question of training him,” Mr. King noted at the time, "they simply couldn't stop him."

"In twelve months between 1940 and 1941, he found over a hundred victims of the air raids in London. His success has been held partially responsible for encouraging authorities to train search and rescue dogs towards the end of World War II.

He worked bravely through the booming explosions of the raids, endured fire and smoke and seemed deaf to the air-raid sirens that made so many freezes with fear.

Rip was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1945, two years after it was introduced. He wore the medal on his collar until the day he died. Rip became the first of a number of Dickin Medal winners to be buried in the PDSA Cemetery in Ilford, Essex. His headstone reads "Rip, D.M., "We also serve" - for the dog whose body lies here played his part in the Battle of Britain."

Genie Joseph, PhD

Director: The Human-Animal Connection


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