Dogs of War have been used since before recorded history. We know that Alexander the Great employed them in his world-conquering armies, as did Julius Caeser in the Roman Empire.
Throughout time, different breeds of dogs were utilized for this task as some breeds are better suited for certain jobs. climate, conditions, and the tasks expected of the dog also play a role in the decision. And not all dogs of war are expected to engage with enemy combatants, many are used for explosives detection, search and rescue, courier work, hauling medical supplies in difficult terrain, etc.
But when it does come to deploying dogs for the specific task of enemy engagement, today’s modern U.S. Military utilizes of two closely-related breeds, the Belgian Malinois and the Dutch Shepherd.
Typically the Malinois are lighter, Fawn colored dogs, and the Dutchies are darker, often brindle colored. These breeds have been interbred so frequently that the differences are mostly just color at this point. And although some German Shepherds still get utilized for this, their numbers are smaller by percentage.
Military K9’s are typically “harder” dogs than what your average civilian is capable of living with, day-in-day-out. They are supplied by a few specialty vendors that breed dogs for one thing only; their Working Ability. Conformation (the dog’s shape), looks, pedigree and registration numbers, kennel clubs, etc do not matter to the soldiers these dogs get deployed with. The only thing important is that the dog is capable of being calm when necessary, has a desire to work, has a stable temperament, and possesses an “On-Off Switch”.. And when it’s switched ON, it’s GO TIME. These dogs have to be able to function through pain, fear, gunfire, explosions, and distractions that would terrify most other dogs as well as humans. They need to accomplish their mission no matter what and do it regularly, day after day, shift after shift, often working until they are physically exhausted. But they love their work and form tight bonds with their human handlers, often becoming inseparable after a few combat experiences.
Since the US military has a budget much larger than any Police Dept, they often get the first choice when new dogs with promise become available. Typically these dogs run about $20,000 to $25,000 each, but to the soldiers deployed with them, they are priceless.
By Dale Ironwood