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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Dogs and their war activities.

(from The Dog Blog)

During World War II, over 10,000 U.S. dogs were recruited and trained for military service as part of a program known as “Dogs for Defense.” The military believed it would be able to put a few hundred well-trained dogs to use. Their estimates proved very low as thousands would eventually be trained and served.

A patriotic public donated dogs to be trained for military functions. In all, the military received nearly 20,000 dogs but made use of only approximately half of those available. The others were found, for a variety of reasons, to be unsuitable for their purposes and were returned to their owners.

The Quartermaster Remount Branch of the army administered the program and supplied service dogs to all branches of the military over the course of the war. Even the Navy and Coast Guard eventually made use of service dogs supplied by Dogs for Defense.

Dogs were subjected to their own version of army boot camp, a training program that lasted eight to twelve weeks. The program involved general obedience training and military-specific training. Dogs learned specific tasks that would help them in their army careers and even were trained to function while wearing gas masks. Training duties were handled by Quartermaster staff who followed a training regimen established by the army and codified in an army technical manual. Service dogs were trained at a variety of military installations across the U.S.

Dogs were trained for a variety of tasks. Sentry dogs were the most commonly needed of the Dogs for Defense. In fact, over nine thousand of the dogs trained by the military were used for this function. Sentry dogs worked as guard dogs at military installations and military-protected sensitive civilian locations. They were to provide warning to soldiers of intruders. Scout dogs filled a similar need, but were trained to operate silently to help “sniff out” snipers and other dangers. Messenger dogs were taught to courier materials between soldiers in both combat and non-combat situations. The army even commanded specific teams of sled dogs for possible use during the war.

One of the most interesting functions performed by the Dogs for Defense was to serve as mine dogs. The dogs were specifically trained to search out mines and booby traps. There were two units of mine dogs. Both were deployed in the North African campaign. However, the experiment did not work out as planned. The dogs failed to successfully perform the functions for which they were trained and the mine dog project was discontinued.

The unsuccessful experiment of using dogs to find mines was one of the only aspects of the Dogs for Defense program that fell short of expectations. Overall, the program was a tremendous success and the well-trained dogs served their country admirably.

Of particular note was a war dog named Chips. Chips had been trained for sentry duty but was observed breaking away from his trainer during a combat situation in Sicily. According to those who observed the happenings, Chips attacked an enemy machine gun nest and seized one of the soldiers. His heroics were legendary and Chips’ story was eventually made into a feature film. Although Chips is certainly the most famous of the so-called war dogs, many other trained dogs made important contributions to the allied war effort.

Following the war, the Dogs for Defense were returned to their original owners. This required another training session to re-acclimate the war veteran dogs to civilian life. By all accounts the dogs reacted well to returning to their pre-war lifestyles. The return of the first war dogs, however, did not mark an end to using dogs in the military.

Subsequent to World War II dogs served the U.S. military in multiple theaters. Many dogs saw combat duty in the Viet Nam (in fact there were twenty eight dog casualties during the war) and in the Persian Gulf War. To this day the U.S. army continues to train dogs for service. These dogs demonstrate not only the potential for good training techniques to teach complicated skills but also the capacity for dogs to help their owners and country in a variety of ways.


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