In the United States, the use of dogs for military purposes extends further into history than many may think. During the Civil War and World War I, canines were used to protect, to communicate messages, and as advertisement, propaganda and recruiting mascots.
Many duties that war dogs have held in the past are no longer practiced. Still, their importance and need has grown tremendously, especially in recent wars. Referred to as a military working dog, or MWD, their uses primarily focus on bomb and drug detection, patrolling and law enforcement.
It takes a special canine personality for a dog to be chosen to be a MWD. After an extensive temperament and physical evaluation, the MWDs are sent to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which is the only military dog training facility in the United States.
On average, the MWDs train at Lackland AFB for 120 days. They are taught basic obedience skills and then depending on their intended task, they will begin specialized training. According to the DoD Military Working Dog Program website, http://www.napwda.com/the-dod-military-working-dog-program, the animals are trained on how to sniff out weapons and explosive devices, and how to respond calmly when either is detected.
Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Ferris, 18th Military Police Detachment, K-9 Unit kennel master, Fort Huachuca, explained that since Sept. 11, 2001, the K-9 unit has been in high demand across the Army.
Even after the training program is completed, a MWD’s training never stops. After initial training, the canine is sent to its assigned duty station and paired with a human handler. The couple continues to train daily.
The Fort Huachuca K-9 unit currently has eight dogs, and right now one is deployed. Typically, two handler/canine teams are deployed for an average of one year at a time. The handlers who are assigned here have more than 50 years of combined dog handling experience.
Aside from their daily duties, MWDs and their handlers work larger missions such as supporting the Secret Service and State Department, providing back-up support for Border Patrol missions and back-up support for other law enforcement agencies.
A typical working day consists of letting the dogs out, feeding them, cleaning out their run, and then taking them to training events or out on patrol. After duty hours, the dogs remain on post in their individual dog runs, and are supervised with around-the-clock video surveillance.
As long as the MWDs maintain good health, their active duty career can last as long as 10 to 12 years. Eventually, MWDs will experience a decline in their abilities as they get older and will reach a point of retirement.
Retired working dogs are often adopted as therapy or service dogs, and many of them carry on their life as great companions in a home environment.
For more information about the Military Working Dogs on Fort Huachuca, contact the K-9 Division, 533.0292.