When a group of ISIS militants recently ambushed a group of elite British commandos with the Special Air Service in Iraq, they did not quite expect what happened.
About 50 ISIS militants, armed with a pair of machine gun-mounted Toyotas ambushed a convoy of four vehicles carrying US commandos back to base. As the battle raged, a U.S. soldier, who was attached to the SAS team, decided to unleash his German Shepherd. The dog, who narrowly escaped a bullet, leaped at one of the militants, ripping into his face and neck, before mangling the arms and legs of another. Both militants turned and fled, screaming.
“(The dog) could sense the tension and had an overpowering urge to protects its handler and the other troops,” a source reported. “A snarling (German shepherd) running at you is very frightening and probably not something the jihadis had encountered. The dog did its job and returned to its handler with its tail wagging.”
Marine dog Baddy was inducted as a member of the Marine Corps’ HMX-1 canine squadron and has spent eight years of his life protecting President George W Bush and later President Barrack Obama. Baddy, who had been trained in bomb sniffing and attack, was responsible for safeguarding the presidential helicopter, Marine One, and went out on roughly 200 domestic and international missions.
During their raid on Osama Bin Laden in 2013, navy SEALS were accompanied by a Belgian Malinois named Cairo.
These are but one or two of many, many heroic stories starring these amazing dog soldiers of the United States.
Dogs have been a vital part of the US military. Partnered with US soldiers, they have been involved in every major war. These four-legged heroes bravely serve their country overseas, saving thousands of American lives. They each save more than 150 human soldiers on average, according to experts. They sniff out incendiary devices, they parachute into terrorist compounds, they even attack terrorists and assailants.
During World War II America launched its military working dog programme. There are about 2500 dogs in active service today and about 700 military dogs deployed in overseas conflicts.
Dr. Stewart Hilliard, Chief of Military War Dog evaluation and training at Lackland Air Force Base says, “These dogs are among our most effective counter measures against terrorists and explosives.”
These extremely resilient, super-high-drive dogs are mostly drafted directly from their breeders. 85% of military working dogs are purchased from Germany and the Netherlands. German Shepherds are mostly chosen because they are intelligent, loyal and can be very aggressive when required. Labrador retrievers are also chosen as they are highly trainable. The natural talent of German Shepherds and Labradors to detect weapons, bombs, gases and drugs is more accurate than any available military equipment.
Belgian Malinois, a breed similar to the German Shepherd, but smaller are used by Navy SEALS. These dogs are fast with a sense of smell 40 times greater than that of a human. Their small stature make them ideal for parachuting and rappelling missions with their handlers.
Military working dogs are not just chosen for their breeding or the keenness of their sense of smell, they must possess several other qualities, including just the right level of aggression and excitability. They must be able to attack on command. They must be free of physical issues and be highly reward motivated. Toys and treats are utilized for the training to this purpose. Kong, hard rubber toys play a vital, almost magical role in training.
Just like their human counterparts dogs go through intensive training to become masters at their job. The dogs’ natural gifts for focus and aggression are honed to perfection by complex training techniques. Their training starts right from the time that they are pups and include bomb, weapon and drug tracking and how to attack the enemy. The training is so rigorous that only about 50% ultimately make it through training.
More than 1,000 dogs are trained at the Department of Defense Military Working Dogs Training School (DoD MWD), Lackland.
A fully trained bomb detection dog is likely worth over $150,000 but really, these animals are priceless. With an average of 98% accuracy in their detection skills, the peace of mind they provide to the troops is immeasurable.
The bond that develops between service dog and handler runs deep and is incomparable to any other relationship. If a handler is killed the dog may experience grief and agitation at the loss and may refuse to take commands from another handler.
If a dog of war is lost in combat, he or she is honored by the entire squad. His food/water bowl is turned upside down, and his harness and collar hung up, to symbolize he won’t be needing them anymore. A memorial service which is usually a very heart breaking one is held and a poem called Guardians of the Night is read in their honor.
The dogs’ rigorous work, jumping, and sniffing out devices gradually damages their health. Just like humans, dog soldiers get affected by the horrors of war and often end up with post traumatic stress disorders. When a dog becomes unfit for service he is considered ‘military surplus equipment’ and abandoned or left behind on foreign shores. They are often euthanised. Instead of being honoured the government sadly forgets that these dogs even exist.
In 2000 President Clinton passed “Robby’s Law” which allows handlers and their families to adopt these military animals at the end of their useful service. Organizations like Saveavet.org also try to find suitable, loving homes for these brave, loyal and amazing dogs.