Military & War Dogs

Breed Profile


Foxhound - American

  • WEIGHT: 65 to 75 lbs
  • HEIGHT: 21 to 25 inches
  • COLOR(S): Black, white, tan or combinations of them
  • BREED GROUP: Hound

A Guide to Military Dogs

A Guide to Military & War Dogs

by Jack Russell  

Soldiers have used dogs for combat support since the days of the Roman Empire. The “dogs of war” historically were used for their superior senses and fighting ability. Modern military dogs were used extensively in Germany, Russia, France, England and Belgium until the United States began to use them after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were 24 basic breeds utilized by the American Army in 1942. These included small dogs like poodles, spaniels and terriers to larger dogs like Dalmatians, Labrador retrievers, Doberman pinschers, sheep dogs, collies, shepherds, mastiffs and Rottweilers. Today, shepherds are the dogs of choice for duty dogs, but retrievers are preferred for non-patrol duty.

military dogs

Influential breeder group “Dogs for Defense” coupled with the American Kennel Club to promote, coordinate and finance canines for use both in civilian and military. If the call came, they wanted the American military machine to be ready to answer that call. Just a few months later, Dogs for Defense, turned over “war dog” training to the military. Over 11,000 dogs and their handlers began training for soldier support by July 1943 in eight distinct areas: sentry, attack, tactic, silent scout, messenger, casualty, and sledge dogs. The current definition of military working dogs is “dogs which are required by the armed services for a specific purpose, mission, or combat capability. Scout, sentry, patrol, tracker, detector-narcotic/contraband and mine and tunnel detector dogs are considered military working dogs. The dogs may be used with or without handlers, according to policies established by the military or governmental agency concerned (DoD, 1971).”

Unlike war dogs of yore, American canine support was used for just that: support, not battlefield fighting, although they could ferret out “undesirable persons” if necessary. While the armor and spike-clad dogs of the ancient Roman Empire were front-line warriors, and Napoleon Bonaparte chained dogs to the walls of Alexandria to warn of attack, modern American dogs were primarily scouts and liaisons. Today, they are used mainly in drug and explosive detection. Dogs today are trained to sniff out improvised explosive material and devices, weapons caches and drugs that are sold for weapons money. There has never been much of a true calling for front-line attack dogs taking down people by force.

Logistics and Communication
Smaller dogs, less than 15 pounds and less than 15 inches in height, were used to deliver battlefield messages under any battle condition and under any type of weather. Modern dogs still adhere to historic height and weight regulations and still are used for battlefield communications and logistics when the situation arises. However, most modern military dogs work to disrupt communication and logistics by thwarting enemy weapons caches and finding explosives, causing the enemy to go to another venue. The greatest communication occurs between the dog and its handler. Training must be constant or the dogs lose their sense of what they need to seek.

Detection & Tracking
Casualty dogs and sledge dogs tracked injured soldiers. Casualty dogs searched for injured soldiers on the battlefield and under bomb debris while sledge dogs searched and found downed airmen in inaccessible snow regions. In today’s wars, especially in arenas such as Afghanistan and Iraq, mine-sniffing dogs are of greater value. Closer to home on our southern borders, dogs are trained to sniff out drugs and explosive devices, through the Department of Homeland Security.

Guard Dogs
Known as sentries, leashed guard dogs assisted soldiers at ammunition dumps, ration depots, arsenals and water locations to warn their handlers of trespassers. Silent scout dogs were trained like sentries with one exception: when they sniffed out trespassers, they were not to bark or loudly growl. They were used primarily in areas where silence was needed in order to keep soldiers safe within reconnaissance, combat and static security patrols in arenas such as Korea and Vietnam. Today's guard dogs do much of the same type of work as well as guarding their handlers.

Drug and Exposive Detection
One of the dogs most prized senses is their sense of smell. Taking their cue from British forces sniffing out explosives in Northern Ireland, the U.S. Air Force began training dogs to detect explosives in 1971. Dogs were able to detect explosives in minute concentrations as low as two parts per billion. The DoD’s best litters today are trained specifically to weed out explosives and weapons of mass destruction. The stars of 2011 are the “R” litter containing brothers Rruuk and Rroddie. Their superior genes may keep them working at home to bring forth new litters of productive working dogs or they may be sent to help save lives in war zones.

Most military working dogs are trained to bite on the sleeve and not ravage a person’s body, but they don’t let go until told to do so. This intimidates the person trying to flee. Another form of intimidation is subtler. Disrupting enemy supply lines or their logistics by having the dogs find weapons caches, tunnels or explosives sends the enemy looking for alternate ways of getting their supplies from point A to point B. This can intimidate by showing them expertise is keeping them from moving ahead with plans.