The use of working dogs in the military dates back to ancient times. Some of the first use of dogs in a military role dates back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians and the Romans to name a few. The Greeks and the Romans often used dogs as guards – or sentries – and on patrols. They were sometimes used in battle.
During the Middle Ages, European Royalty accepted dogs as tokens if they were specifically bred for war. Other civilizations during that time were known to armor the dogs and use them to defend their caravans or attack oncoming enemies. During the Seven Year War with Russia, Frederick the Great utilized canines as messengers. Some believe they were used up until the mid to late 1700s to guard France’s naval installations.
In the United States, the first canine on record to serve in the military is noted during the Seminole War. Later, during the Civil War, they were used for a variety of reasons including protection and as messengers. It is believed they were used during WWI as mascots to lift the morale of the men in the trenches. They were also used during this time to pull small carts containing guns and other necessary supplies.
WWII Canine Roles
Canines were used in a variety of roles during World War II. The USMC used them to assist with overtaking islands in the South Pacific that were occupied by the Japanese Forces. It was during this time the Doberman Pincher was named the official dog of the United States Marine Corps. This did not exclude other breeds from being trained for work in the South Pacific. The most decorated canine military member of WWII was a dog named Chips.
The Story of Chips
Chips was a mix of German shepherd, collie and Siberian husky. During WWII, dog owners donated their dogs to the service. Chip was no exception. He shipped out for training as a sentry dog in 1942. Assigned to handler Private John Rowell, Chips served with the 3rd Infantry Division in a number of areas including North Africa, Italy and France. In 1943, Chips served as a sentry dog during the Roosevelt-Churchill conference.
During the invasion of Sicily, Chips and Pvt. Rowell became trapped on a beach by a team of Italian machine gunners. Chip reacted heroically. He broke loose from Rowell, jumped into the pillbox and attacked the gunners. The four men were forced to evacuate the pillbox and later surrendered to U.S. troops. Chips did sustain a scalp wound and some powder burns, but his day wasn’t over yet. Chips finished the day assisting in the capture of ten Italians. His incredible dedication and service throughout the war earned him a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. These awards were eventually rescinded due to Army policy which prevented animals from receiving commendations. Chips unit though came through and “unofficially” awarded him the Theater Ribbon w/Arrowhead for an assault landing and eight Battlestars representing each campaign he participated in. In 1945, Chips was discharged from the Army and returned to his original owner – Edward Wren of Pleasantville, NY.
Dogs were used in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Often trained as scout dogs, they were capable of detecting ambushes, weapon caches and even enemy fighters who would be hiding under water. It is estimated that close to 5,000 dogs served during the Vietnam War. Along with the 10,000 US service-men who acted as dog-handlers, it is estimated they saved over 10,000 lives. The dogs were often stationed outside of the camps, towers and/or bunkers. The US Army, US Navy and USMC all used sentry dogs on large bases to protect their perimeters.
Modern Day Military Dogs
Today, more than 600 K-9s – or Military Working Dogs – are currently being used in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They continue to be used for guarding, patrolling and for
detection work. Each is assigned to a handler who is also specially trained to work with the dog. The dogs receive tactical vests which are equipped with a camera and microphone, allowing the dogs to relay vital information to their handler.
In the area of detection, these well-trained K-9s are trained to alert their handler of the smallest amount(s) of a wide variety of explosive. This type of detection is useful when securing entry points, patrolling inside secure installations and at checkpoints. The average success rate for bomb detection by a working dog in the military is 98%.