From our earliest interactions thousands of years ago, dogs and people have formed an unbreakable bond. As guardians and hunting partners, dogs shared in the daily burdens of ancient life. It was only natural then, as wars broke out between people, that dogs joined on the battlefield. One of the earliest mentions of dogs being used in war comes from around 600 B.C. For many centuries after that, dogs maintained a presence in the military, serving as morale boosters for the soldiers and eventually being trained to play more specific roles in the fighting.
During World War II, the U.S. military began a more concerted effort to recruit and train dogs for use in combat. Today, dogs serve in various military capacities all over the world. Even with so many technological advancements in the modern military, there are still some tasks best undertaken by well-trained canine soldiers with their elite senses of smell and hearing.
Because military dogs serve in a wide variety of roles, the breeds utilized by the armed forces vary widely as well. Throughout history, many breeds, large and small, have played vital military roles in both war and peace. Here are 16 military dog breeds who have answered the call to serve throughout the years.
The 16 Military Dog Breeds
1. German Shepherd
Originally developed by a German army officer specifically for use as a military working dog, it’s no surprise that German Shepherds remain one of the most popular military breeds. The German army began utilizing trained German Shepherds as sentries, messengers, and ammo carriers in World War I. By World War II, other countries including the U.S. had recruited their own German Shepherds and the breed has served armed forces worldwide ever since. German Shepherds excel as military dogs because of their intelligence, loyalty, athleticism, and protective nature.
2. Belgian Malinois
This high intensity breed first answered the call to duty in World War I, where they served as messengers and helped find wounded soldiers left on the battlefield. Today, Belgian Malinois are widely utilized by the military as all-around working dogs. Like German Shepherds, the Belgian Malinois is intelligent and athletic with an intense, aggressive demeanor well-suited to military usage. Belgian Malinois are the preferred military working dog to deploy with elite units like Navy SEALS because they are lighter than German Shepherds and able to parachute more easily. A Belgian Malinois named Cairo was part of the SEAL team that finally tracked down Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
3. Dutch Shepherd
Much like their German and Belgian counterparts, Dutch Shepherds are popular military working dogs. Originally bred as sheepherders in the Netherlands, Dutch Shepherds were drafted into the German army during World War II because of their strong working qualities. Today, Dutch Shepherds join the two previously described breeds to make up the majority of working dogs in the U.S. military. Dutch Shepherds are intelligent and highly trainable dogs, making them a good choice for military service.
4. Labrador Retriever
Bred to use their noses as hunters, Labrador Retrievers also utilize their peerless sense of smell as military working dogs. Labradors are heavily relied on by the modern military as specialized search dogs, sniffing out explosives alongside their human handlers. Amiable, smart, and highly trainable, Labradors are also used as combat stress control dogs. Their happy tails and friendly faces can be a welcome relief for soldiers during long, intense deployments.
5. Airedale Terrier
The “king of terriers”, Airedale Terriers were one of the first breeds who served bravely in the British Army during World War I. Smart and determined, Airedales stood guard as sentry dogs and were trained to carry messages across the battlefield. Airedale Terriers also assisted the Red Cross by sniffing out wounded soldiers and carrying medical supplies. Less utilized by today’s military, the heroism of Airedale Terriers in World War I was widely recognized by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
6. Siberian Husky
Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds and that’s exactly how they were utilized by the U.S. military during World War II. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes were the only two breeds active in the military dog program. Siberian Huskies served as Arctic search and rescue dogs, able to provide transportation in the harshest weather when motorized vehicles were useless. While no longer used by the U.S. military, Huskies recently were called back into service by the Russian army, training to provide transport in regions where weather and terrain make vehicles unreliable.
7. Alaskan Malamute
Like the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamutes were used as sled dogs by the U.S. military during World War II. Alaskan Malamutes were also among the first military dogs trained to parachute. In their search and rescue capacity, Malamutes jumped into harsh terrain and transported rescue teams in search of downed aircraft and their crews.
8. Giant Schnauzer
Originally bred as cattle driving dogs, Giant Schnauzers were used as sentry and tracking dogs by the German army in both World Wars. In America, Giant Schnauzers were used by the Air Force during World War II and again in the 1980ʻs but were found not as temperamentally suited to military work as other breeds. However, the Department of Defense recently gave the breed one more shot, selecting a Giant Schnauzer named Brock to train for odor detection and patrol. Doing his breed proud, a fully-trained Brock served on a presidential detection detail in Germany in 2017.
The German military used Boxers extensively during both World Wars. Sturdy Boxers served their home country loyally as pack and messenger dogs. While some Boxers are still utilized as army working dogs, they are much more popular as companion dogs worldwide. In fact, their military service led to their global popularity, as many soldiers returning home from World War II brought Boxers back with them.
10. Doberman Pinscher
Protective and intelligent, Doberman Pinschers were widely utilized military working dogs during both World Wars. They served as sentries, messengers, and detection dogs. Dobermans also helped find and rescue wounded soldiers. The U.S. Marines had their own corps of Dobermans, nicknamed “Devil Dogs”, who served bravely during World War II. The first war dog memorial is on the island of Guam, where 25 of the Devil Dog Dobermans lost their lives and were buried. Dobermans are less commonly used in the U.S. military today but still serve in other countries, such as India.
A large and intimidating-looking breed, Rottweilers were first used as army dogs during World War I. These smart and loyal dogs served as guards, alerting the troops to enemy movements. Rottweilers are less utilized as military working dogs in the present day.
12. Bouvier Des Flanders
Bouvier des Flanders were developed in Belgium as all-around working farm dogs, herding cattle and pulling carts. When World War I turned their home country into a war zone, Bouviers were drafted into the military. The hard-working breed was used to deliver messages and pull litters carrying wounded soldiers. Bouviers also played similar roles during World War II.
13. Irish Terrier
During World War I, plucky Irish Terriers could be found serving in the trenches with the British Army. These small, red terriers were trained as messengers. Originally bred to hunt rodents, they fulfilled that purpose in wartime as well, hunting down the vermin infesting the trenches.
If there is such a thing as the original military dog, Mastiffs can likely lay claim to that title. This breed dates back to at least 2,500 years ago. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, took their giant guard dogs to war with them. These dogs were used not only to guard but to attack the enemy. Modern-day descendants of those early mastiffs had much of the war dog mentality bred out of them and are more likely to be found drooling in living rooms than patrolling as military working dogs.
15. Border Collie
Considered the most intelligent of dogs, Border Collies were one of several breeds recruited by the British Army during World War I. Like many of the breeds already discussed, Border Collies served as messengers, sentries and helped locate wounded soldiers. While their intelligence and speed are unquestioned, Border Collies are no longer used as military dogs.
16. Black Russian Terrier
The Black Russian Terrier was literally created to be a military working dog. After World War II, the Soviet army decided to create the perfect working dog for their needs. To accomplish this, they eventually combined 17 different breeds, including quite a few on this list like the Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, and Airedale. The result was a large, protective dog able to work in the extreme climate of Russia. Black Russian Terriers are used on patrol, to detect mines, and to perform search and rescue operations.
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