Every November 11th, our nation honors the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Dogs have stood side-by-side with the brave men and women of the United States military. Whether patrolling the perimeter of an airbase in Vietnam, helping track down an ISIS leader, or providing much-needed emotional support to members of the military, these four-legged soldiers proved to be invaluable assets on and off the field of battle.
With so many heroes to praise, we turn our attention to the subject we know best: dogs. As we commemorate the sacrifice millions of Americans have made in the name of freedom this Veterans Day, we also honor our heroic military canines.
Since their domestication, canines have used their innate skills and traits to work for us, guard us, and provide companionship. Because dogs have adapted to living among us so successfully, it’s no surprise that dogs have also been instrumental in times of war.
Dogs have played an important role in the United States military since the early 1800s. These service dogs have many roles, both on the battlefield and off. A wide variety of breeds – including German shepherds, Pit Bulls, St. Bernards, Retrievers, Blood Hounds and even Yorkies – have been chosen based on their abilities and suitability for service.
Some of the amazing skills these pawed soldiers learn include:
- Sniffing out drugs, weapons, toxins, and mines
- Silence (no bark) training
- Acclimation to submarines and jets
- Training to rappel and skydive with their handlers
- Controlled aggression
- Face-to-face combat
- Emotional support
One of the most famous war dogs to serve in the United States military was a brave Pit Bull named Stubby. In 1917, Stubby was found as a stray on the Yale University campus by soldiers who were training prior to deploying for France during World War I. He came in with his stubby little tail and instantly won the hearts of the men training there. Private John Robert Conroy snuck him on the soldiers’ ship to France, where it’s said the clever canine saluted the commander on board, earning him the chance to remain on the ship. The dog would use his keen senses to warn the soldiers of poison gas attacks, and find soldiers that had gone down on the battlefield. Stubby’s many heroic accomplishments led to him being given the rank of Sergeant by his unit – the only time this has happened in the history of dogs in the United States military.
In addition to their work in combat, dogs also perform a crucial role helping soldiers once they have returned home from war. Dogs assist veterans with physical and mental health challenges. Many of these dogs serve as therapeutic animals for military men and women undergoing treatment for PTSD. K9s for Warriors is one remarkable non-profit organization we support who rescues and trains shelter dogs to be paired as Service Dogs for veterans with PTSD.
Dogs may not demand our appreciation, as they willingly give their dedication, skills, and loyalty to us, but we believe these brave canines deserve our respect, admiration, and commitment to their long term care for all that they’ve endured. Many canine veterans suffer emotional and physical scars as a result of their immersion in military operations and for their sacrifice, we will be forever grateful.
Thanks to the efforts of decades of war dog handlers and their allies, more and more of these dogs are finding loving homes at the end of their careers. Some dogs even return home to live with their former handlers, continuing the bond they forged while at war.
Again, thank you to all of the men and women – and dogs – who served our country so bravely. We salute you.
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