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Remember military working dogs on Memorial Day

Original Publication Date: May 19, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

We honor our military personnel every day of the year, but Memorial Day has been designated as a national holiday to remember those who lost their lives in the service of our country.

Our military men and women deserve special thanks as do the military working dogs that serve with them.

Enlisting dogs for military duty is an old concept dating back to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

The U.S. military has used working dogs since the Revolutionary War, but in World War I, a Boston bull terrier named Stubby was the first to gain fame for his service to the troops.

Stubby, wandering around where soldiers were training, was befriended by Private J. Robert Conroy, who smuggled him aboard the S.S. Minnesota when the troops shipped out. Conroy, Stubby and the 102nd infantry were on the front line and under constant fire after landing in France.

Stubby's keen sense of smell alerted troops to an approaching mustard gas attack, and he captured a spy even though the dog suffered injuries from a German hand grenade and mustard gas.

Many other dogs served in WWI; however, only Stubby was awarded the rank of sergeant. His status earned him the honor of meeting Presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge.

Canines first officially entered the military in March 1942 to serve in the Army's K-9 Corps.

Lackland Air Force Base is home to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program, where the 341st Training Squadron trains teams of military working dogs and handlers in "Dog School."

The 120-day program teaches basic obedience and more advanced skills, such as how to attack and how to sniff for specific substances. Military working dogs must exhibit focused, aggressive behavior, be very athletic, demonstrate a heightened sense of smell and have a strong desire to work for reward.

The training program is based on "positive rewards." Usually a ball or rubber toy is used rather than food. A reward of food seems to work only for the short term. A dog really wants to play, so a toy is a more desirable incentive.

The use of military working dogs has changed a lot since Stubby assisted troops in WWI, and the military has increased its reliance on military working dogs.

An estimated 4,000 dogs led jungle patrols in Vietnam, and about 2,500 were deployed with troops during the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Cairo, a Belgian malinois, accompanied U.S. Navy Seals when Osama bin Laden was killed in Operation Neptune Spear.

Currently, 2,500 military working dogs of the U.S. Armed Forces detect mortars, find drugs and protect their fellow troops on bases around the world. Like our troops, many military working dogs give up their lives while serving.

This Memorial Day, please remember and be grateful for the dedication and service of our military working dogs and their handlers.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at