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“The guard dog was incorruptible; the police dog dependable; the messenger dog reliable. The human watchman might be bought; not so the dog. The soldier sentinel might fall asleep; never the dog. The battlefield runner might fail … but not the dog, to his last breath would follow the line of duty.”
-Ernest Harold Baynes, Animal Heroes of the Great War
A Military War Dog, or Military Working Dog, (MWD), is a canine that has been trained to protect humans in dangerous situations, and March 13 has been unofficially designated as a day to honor these unique members of the military.
A Brief History of Military Working Dogs
Dogs have been part of military campaigns for centuries. Documentation of their use during wartime dates as far back as the mid-7th century BCE.
During WWI, the US military began to utilize dogs for message delivery between troops. The need for military dogs became so great that American families began to donate their dogs to the war effort. It has been estimated that approximately 1,000,000 dogs were killed in action during the war. During the war, dogs were reported to have performed acts of bravery and heroism during combat. One such dog was Sergeant Stubby.
Sergeant Stubby was purported to be both the most decorated war dog of WWI, and the only dog to be nominated and promoted to the rank of sergeant through combat. Stubby was smuggled overseas by Corporal Robert Conroy. He served with Corporal Conroy and the 102nd Infantry Regiment for a total of 18 months.
During this time, Stubby participated in four offensives and 17 battles. Though he was injured several times, Stubby always managed to recover and return to the front lines to help the regiment.
One such injury was the result of a mustard gas attack. After Stubby recovered, he was outfitted with a specially designed gas mask so he could return to the trenches and rejoin his regiment. Stubby also learned to help his unit and warn them of impending danger.
He was able to give warning of poison gas attacks, locate wounded soldiers, and alert his unit to incoming artillery shells.
The feat that supposedly earned Stubby the rank of sergeant occurred when he captured a German spy and held him by the seat of his pants until US soldiers arrived. Although there is no official documentary evidence for this claim, Stubby’s display at the Smithsonian Institution promotes the story as true.
With the creation of the United States K9 Corps on March 13, 1942, dogs were officially adopted into US military ranks during WWII. The Army’s Dogs for Defense program trained 10,000 dogs who were again donated to the war effort by American families.
Upon completion of training, MWDs were deployed to several places both at home and abroad:
The USMC used MWDs in the Pacific theater to recapture islands overrun by Japanese forces
The Coast Guard used MWDs at home to patrol the coastline
The Navy use MWDs to guard shipyards
During the Vietnam War, about 5,000 MWDs served in-country, and roughly 10,000 servicemen served as dog handlers. Scout dogs were reported to have saved about 10,000 lives, and MWDs were so successful at their jobs that bounties of up to $20,000 were placed on their heads. It was also reported that 232 MWDs and 295 dog handlers were killed in action.