by Melody Keilig
This July Fourth, we'll be enjoying grilling burgers and watching fireworks to celebrate the founding of the United States. On these patriotic holidays, we usually take the time to thank everyone who has served in the various military branches.
After thanking service members, have you ever noticed service dogs nearby? These canine heroes work side-by-side with our human heroes, let's learn more about what their jobs entail and find ways to properly thank them for their service.
What Kind of Work Does a Military Dog Do?
Military service dogs are trained to perform tasks and duties such as detecting explosives, patrolling, searching and rescuing, and subduing a foe operative. There are dogs serving in every branch of the U.S. military: Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and the Coast Guard.
The U.S. military officially began training service dogs during World War II, but historical records show that our country has utilized dogs in the military since the Revolutionary War. So, this indicates that dogs have been serving alongside humans in the military for centuries!
Why have dogs been trained for the military? Well, dogs have many abilities that humans don't possess. For example, dogs have a hyper-focused sense of smell, agility beyond a human's ability, and can detect movement that humans cannot. These amazing natural canine abilities are invaluable to the safety of our service members.
Today, Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas, has specific training for service dogs. These dogs train in the 341st Training Battalion, which trains military dogs and their handlers for the Department of Defense (DoD), other government agencies, and our allies. Further training includes logistical, security, and veterinary services.
The military training for these dogs involves intense obedience and training. This training also involves socialization and bonding between the dogs and their handlers.
The Most Common Dog Breeds in the Military
Which dog breeds are typically used in the military? As we know, certain dog breeds are better for various jobs based on their natural build and abilities.
The most common dog breeds in the military are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweilers, Boxers, and Airedale Terriers.
Each of these breeds has its unique strengths and weaknesses, so they're often trained for different military roles. Not all of these dog breeds are in battle; most are used as patrol or scout dogs, communication and messenger dogs, explosive detecting dogs, and parachute dogs.
When their active military service comes to an end, these specially-trained dogs are brought back to the U.S. from abroad. However, because of their prior intense military training, these service dogs are not allowed to work once they're retired from their duties. Military service dogs usually retire when they're about 10-12 years old, but some are honorably discharged sooner for physical injuries or mental distress.
So what happens to these military service dogs after they retire? And how can you help these dogs after their service days are over?
How You Can Help Military Service Dogs Today
Since 2000 in the U.S., retired military dogs can be adopted by civilian or law enforcement personnel. These dogs are often adopted by their handlers from the military due to the strong bond formed between them. But, if the military handler isn't able to adopt their service dog, the option for adoption is open to the public to ensure that every dog finds a home.
If you want to consider adopting a former military service dog, this will help give them a permanent, loving home. Going back to the 341st Training Battalion in Texas, they offer an adoption program for dogs who underwent military training but did not meet the DoD requirements to serve.
In the Military Working Dog Adoption Program, the younger dogs available for adoption are dogs who couldn't pass the rigorous training and were prevented from moving further into the military process.
Older dogs available for adoption have served in the field or helped in the training of other dogs. Some of these older dogs may have medical issues that could require medication and proper care for the remainder of their lives. Also, this program's application process is meticulous in finding the dog's perfect match with the potential adoptees' family, home, and lifestyle.
There's a lot of work involved when adopting dogs through this program, but if you're up to giving a former military dog a loving home, it will be worth it.
The 341st Training Battalion also has a foster dog program for puppies at eight weeks old open to volunteers in the San Antonio or Austin area. The Military Working Dog Breeding Program also referred to as Fostering a Future Hero, is a 5-month commitment to fostering the puppy from eight weeks to 7 months old.
These puppies are bred at the 341st Training Squadron and reared at their Military Working Dog Center. From birth to eight weeks, these puppies are professionally cared for by Puppy Development Specialists.
Although every puppy won't make it through the training when they're old enough to begin the intensive process, it's still crucial to give them a stable environment that will prepare them for the next phase as they reach adulthood.
Once the puppies are eight weeks old, they go home with qualified and preapproved foster volunteers. That's how you can help during this foster period if you are selected to volunteer in this vital role.
During this time, volunteers raise the puppies in a nurturing and loving home with plenty of fun outings to expose them to different environments. Volunteers will also need to provide plenty of play opportunities and fulfilling other needs to ensure the puppies become socially sound and stable.
Another worthy cause to help former military service dogs and military service members is donating to K9s For Warriors. This program specially trains dogs rescued from shelters to assist soldiers post-service. In addition, these dogs undergo training to ensure that they have gentle responses to stressful situations.
The dogs selected by the program will be living with former military service members who face the many challenges of living with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or victims of various acts of violence while in service. Another great part of this program is that veterans receive their specially-trained rescue dog at no charge in exchange for their service to our country.
There are many ways to help military service dogs and veterans. Look into these programs and local support systems to give your time and dedication to making a difference in the lives of retired military members: canines and humans.
Do you have a military dog story? Have you served as a military canine handler? Tell us your story or experience working with active and post-active military dogs in our growing Facebook Porch Potty community!