Military Service Dogs The History and Tails

Dogs are known for their loyalty, companionship and most importantly their ability to display unconditional love.  When it comes to working, dogs are known for their ability to guide the blind, assist the handicap and assume various positions within the United States partnering with fire fighters, police and armed forces.

On September 11th, 2001 when the twin towers were bombed, search and rescue canines were bought in to help recover bodies and missing persons.  Donations were accepted to help feed and care for the 9/11 K-9 task force. Canine quickly became abbreviated into its phonetic pronunciation of K 9 to identify the working dogs among us.

Rin-Tin-Tin: K-9 Cop a television show from 1988-1993 featured the bond between officer Hank Katts and his German Shepherd, Rudy aka Rinty as they fought crime and evil. Really what Officer Katts and Rudy did on television is no different than what is going on overseas today.


According to USA Today there are around 650 canines in Afghanistan, assisting U.S Troops by sniffing out explosive traps. When looking at the troops serving overseas, their partners include German Shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Malinois and although this war in the Middle East may have new challenges however canine or K-9 force is no stranger to the battlefront.

During the Greek and Roman days, dogs were equipped with spiked collars and sent over at the enemy in attack mode.  Than during the Middle Ages responsibilities for the canine force began to shift towards a defensive strategy as dogs were fitted in armor and used to protect caravans in their travels.  Used as sentries by the American Indians, the Balkans and Italians, canines were utilized for their highly evolved sensory system canines, and natural instinct to operate within a pack.

Military Service Dogs

Military Service Dogs

The American Military did not utilize the idea of a working dog within their troop system until World War II when we realized the United States was becoming involved with global conflicts.  Dogs were utilized first for sentry duty and casualty work during World War II, however the canine force has become an acknowledged member of the United States Military forces.

USA Today featured an article on its cover this past Friday, June 24, 2011 Guidelines tell how to treat war’s four-legged warriors, detailing how physicians are now being trained on identifying not only ailments in military personnel but their canine companions as well.  Although there are two veterinary hospitals and seven teams made up of veterinarians stationed in Afghanistan, dogs are commonly bought to field hospitals with human casualties, wounded from either gunshots or roadside bombs.

While physicians at the field hospitals are equipped to identify and treat human beings, they are now being issued additional guidelines distinguishing their canine companions.  Physicians are now being trained to resuscitate and stabilize the military service dogs while they await transportation to veterinary care.

USA Today noted differences between humans and canines according to the Army Institute of Surgical Research.  Key differences include knowing that a canine’s normal heart rate is 20 beats-per-minute faster, and their body temperature is 2-3 degrees higher than humans.

During the month of April doctors received guidelines displaying how to apply pulse rate monitors onto a dog’s ear or tongue and placement of electrodes for electrocardiograms work best on the pads of a canine’s feet, away from fur that can interfere.

Ironically dogs can go through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD, one of the more prominent medical conditions affecting military personnel serving overseas.  The Washington Post released a story on the healing power contained within the bond between a dog and owner, more specifically one with PTSD.

Military Service Dogs

Military Service Dogs

The story centered on an Air Force Veteran David Sharpe and his 6-month old Pitbull Cheyenne.  Sharpe admitted to hitting rock bottom and placing the barrel to a .45 into his mouth, desperate to escape the visions and demons that frequently haunt the lives of those who served within war-zones.

“Most of the vets I’ve spoken to don’t want dogs to do tricks. We just want companionship,” he says. “Eighteen vets commit suicide every day in this country, and one animal is put to sleep every eight seconds. They can help save each other.” Sharpe told the Washington Post regarding his vision in linking pound dogs and suffering soldiers.

“I couldn’t talk to anybody — not my father, not the counselors — but I could talk to that dog, and she never judged me,” Sharpe says. “We don’t want to hear, ‘Wow, that must have been horrible.’ We just want to talk.”

Cheyenne couldn’t ask Sharpe why he was doing it, however she could listen if he wanted her too. All Cheyenne knew as she stared at Sharpe was that if he pulled that trigger  no one would be around to take care of her, and pits are not exactly known to be favorites among rescue shelters.

Pit bulls and soldiers have one main thing in common and that is they are both misunderstood and alienated because of society’s lack of acceptance.   Soldiers fight everyday for our freedom, they are not the ones who started this war and pits are just as innocent as any other breed, unfortunately celebrities such as Michael Vick have attributed to the bad wrap.

Personally I believe animals are sent to us as guardians and what is going to result from this story of David Sharpe and Cheyenne will be exactly that. To find out more about the program visit the Huffington Post’s article Service Dogs for Veterans.  Soldiers will find comfort in the silence and unconditional love offered by their canine companions and hopefully shelter dogs can find homes in the arms of returning veterans in the years to come.

Quartermasters Museum-History of Canines in Combat

David Sharpe and Cheyenne: Veterans and Shelter Dogs Find Common Bond

Huffington Post Service Dogs For Veterans
Military Service Dogs

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