PICTURE IT, U.S. Army, 1942…
On this day in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the U.S. Army began training dogs for the newly formed War Dog Program, or K-9 Corps. Militaries around the world have employed dogs since ancient times. Originally, dogs were employed in offensive operations, being sent into enemy territory to break up formations and tearing down as many enemies as possible. Over time, dogs were used as couriers, sentries, and scouts.
It’s estimated that over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I as messengers and providers of comfort to soldiers. After WWI, the U.S. largely halted the practice of training dogs for military purposes. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, a movement was formed by the American Kennel Association and a group called Dogs for Defense to ask dog owners to donate healthy animals to the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. The QMC started training dogs in March 1942 and, later that year, more dogs were trained for the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
Initially, the K-9 Corps accepted over 30 breeds of dogs but that was narrowed down to seven: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes, and Eskimo dogs. Training consisted of 8 to 12 weeks of basic obedience training after which canine recruits were sent through specialized programs to become sentries, scouts or patrol dogs, messengers, or mine-detectors. Scout dogs were notable because they proved essential in alerting patrols of enemy approach and preventing surprise attacks.
Since then, canine compatriots have put their paw prints on military history, proving themselves vital in every conflict. Here are some notable K-9s:
- Sergeant Stubby, 102nd Infantry Regiment: In 1917, a stray pit bull mix wandered into where members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment were training and proceeded to participate in drills, even learning how to salute with his right paw. It was clear Stubby would fit right in and he was adopted by Private J. Robert Conroy who smuggled him into the trenches of France where he proved himself in war. Stubby warned troops of imminent poison gas attacks and learned how to locate the wounded during patrols. He was promoted to Sergeant after sniffing out a German spy and attacking him until reinforcements arrived. Sgt Stubby served 18 months during which he took part about 17 battles, surviving wounds and boosting morale of his fellow soldiers.
- Chips, 3rd Infantry Division: Trained as a sentry dog, Chips, a Collie-German Shepherd-Siberian Husky mix, was donated to serve during WWII and deployed with the 3rd ID in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. In the invasion of Sicily, Chips and his handler were pinned down on the beach by a machine gun team. Chips jumped off leash and jumped into the machine gun pillbox, attacking the gunners and causing them to surrender. He sustained a scalp wound and powder burns in the battle but this did not deter him from helping take 10 Italian prisoners later that day.
- Cairo, U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six: A Belgian Malinoi, Cairo deployed with the SEAL Team that stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011. He was tasked to stand guard outside the compound and keep locals at bay. Inside, he would sniff out bombs or booby traps. Depending on the needs of the mission, Cairo was trained to fill any role; however, when the first of two choppers hovering around compound had to ditch, Cairo’s chopper made a landing across the street. From there, Cairo and four SEALs set up a perimeter while the rest of the team stormed the site. It would be over a half hour before bin Laden was confirmed dead, then Cairo and his SEAL team came back to base.
March 13th is K-9 Veterans Day
Today, March 13th is a day set aside to honor and commemorate the service and sacrifice of military working dogs throughout history. America’s military dogs serve important roles in units around the globe. It’s estimated that the U.S. Army employed 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War.
According to the U.S. Army, today, there are about 578 dog teams that have seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq. These dogs carry on a tradition of distinguished service, continuing to save life and prevent injuries to our troops.
To every American military K-9 and handler, past and present, thank you for your service!
- Dogs of War, Texas Monthly
- The Dogs of War: The U.S. Army’s Use of Canines in WWII, The Army Historical Foundation
- 5 of History’s Most Dedicated Dogs, History.com
- K9 Veterans Day, Museum of the American G.I.
- My Partner from the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid, The History Reader
- National K9 Veterans Day, Military.com
- Remembering K9s on Veterans Day, The Bark
- Support Your Four-Legged Veterans on National K9 Veterans Day, American Humane
- Today is National K9 Veterans Day, We Are The Mighty
- U.S. Army launches K-9 Corps, History.com
- War Dogs: The Birth of the K-9 Corps, U.S. Army
- War Dogs in World War II, U.S. War Dog Association