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A Different Kind of Dog Vet
Through the centuries, dogs’ roles have shifted and expanded, making them an integral part of modern nations’ security plan. In the U.S., since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the use of bomb-sniffing dogs to protect transportation hubs and other public venues has increased by more than 400%.
Quick Facts - Military Working Dogs (MWDs)
- Upon retirement 90% are adopted by their handlers.
- Every MWD is a noncommissioned officer (always one rank above their handler).
- Fully trained explosives detection dogs (EDD) have a 98% accuracy rate detecting explosives, compared to 50% for mechanical devices.
- Able to sniff out scents 10-100x greater than human beings.
- Average career is 8 to 12 years, depending on the dog’s health.
- About 2,700 U.S. MWDs are in service today - more than any other country. 700 are currently deployed overseas.
- Each MWD saves between 150-200 lives in its lifetime according to the American Humane Association.
Breeds & PRocurement
Most MWDs are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Breeds known to be aggressive, loyal, smart and athletic.
- More than 1,000 dogs are in training at any given time by 125 staff members from all branches of the U.S. Military.
- All dogs must complete a 17-week advanced training course with their Handler. K9 training is ongoing for the professional life of the dog.
- Two-thirds are trained and certified to detect explosives, one-third are trained for patrol and drug detection.
- All dogs trained and used by the U.S. Military are procured and trained by the 341st Working Dog Training Squadron, Lackland AFB, TX.
- Only 50% of dogs in training will make it all the way through to graduation and certification.
- Approximately 425 students from all U.S. Military Branches will train to become canine handlers.
Cost and Value
- The cost to train each service dog, depending on Specialization, ranges from $20k to $40k.
- Special Forces K9 Training is closer to $50,000 with a 1% graduation rate.
- Each dog costs between $80,000 - $100,000, including cost of training and lifetime care.
- A fully trained Explosives Detection Dog is likely worth over $150,000.
This might seem expensive but… the Pentagon spent $19 billion between 2004 and 2010 trying to create a machine with the bomb-detecting skills of a canine without success.
Dogs Chosen and Trained for This Duty Must do the Following:
- Explosives, IEDs, and Mine Detection
- Narcotics Detection
- Specialized Search
- Combat Tracking
- Protection Including Sentry, Guarding and Patrol
- Some are Trained for Specialized Duty Luke Jumping out of Airplanes
History of Dogs in the Military
- 600 B.C. Documented use in battle since ancient times (Greeks and Romans).
- 1492: Used for protection by Christopher Columbus when he traveled to the New World.
- 1914 - 1918: Dogs widely used in WW1, many of them “Mercy Dogs.”
- 1943: U.S. “War Dog Program” created in VA to support military and later, law enforcement efforts.
- 1943 - 1945: During WW2, USMC used dogs to take back islands occupied by Japanese Forces in the South Pacific.
- 1966 - 1973: Approx. 5K dogs were used by all branches of the military during the Vietnam War.
- 1970: Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) first used dogs to help prevent drug smuggling.
- 2000: President Clinton signs Robby's Law. Stopping the practice of classifying military dogs as "military surplus equipment" and euthanizing or abandoning them after retirement.
- 2011: A member of the Special Forces, Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, helped bring down Osama Bin Laden.
- 2015: November, President Obama signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) guaranteeing funding for all MWDs’ ride home from combat and allowing their handlers to adopt them after their service ends.
Check out our Guide to Service Dogs for more information on dogs that help.