After the attack at Pearl Harbor, in 1942, the U.S. Military joined with the American Kennel Club to establish Dogs for Defense. The American Kennel Club recruited dog owners to donate quality canines to the military. The Quartermasters Corps was responsible for supplies, food service and materials management. On March 13, 1942, the Quartermaster Corps of the army took charge of turning these pets into soldiers. The U.S. Marines also trained handlers and canines to be soldiers in the Pacific during World War II.
At first there were over 300 breeds of dogs accepted into the program, but eventually the list was narrowed down to German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies and Giant Schnauzers. Of the 19,000 dogs screened for the program between 1942 and 1945, 45% were rejected. In the beginning, civilian volunteers trained the recruits, but after the first training center opened in Front Royal, Virginia, the training was done by the Quartermasters Corps soldiers for the Army and the Marines trained their own canines.
The training took 12 weeks. It started with basic obedience and progressed to training with gas masks, muzzles, military vehicles and gunfire. After the basic training was complete, the dogs were moved on to training in specific duties.
Sentry dogs: Walked on short leashes and warned their handlers by growling and barking. They were always on patrol with their handlers.
Scout or Patrol dogs: These dogs did the duties of the sentry dog but they were trained to work silently. They detected snipers or ambushes from the enemy. These canine soldiers saved the lives of many of their handlers.
Messenger dogs: These dogs required extreme loyalty because they were used to silently carry messages back and forth between their two handlers.
Mine dogs: These canines were trained to find trip wires and mines. There were 140 dogs trained as mine dogs during World War II, but it was determined that the dogs had trouble finding mines during combat.
The majority of the dogs were trained as sentries. Of the 9,300 dogs that were trained, 3,174 were used by the Coast Guard. These dogs were used to guard the coastline, harbor defense and protecting industrial plants and airfields.
In 1944, the military started using canines for combat. The sentry dogs in combat could detect enemy soldiers up to 1,000 yards away. In order to alert their handler without giving away their positions, the dogs would stiffen, and the hair on the dog’s back would stand up. Over the years, military working canines have been used in not only World War II, but Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and they are currently deployed in Iraq. It is noted that in Vietnam, canine war dogs saved as many as 10,000 lives.
One of the first war memorials was erected on Asan beach in Guam in 1944. It was moved to the United States Naval Base on the island in 1994. This particular memorial is dedicated to the Dobermans that served with the Marines during World War II. The inscription on the memorial statue reads…”always faithful”.
If you would like to read more about Dogs for Defense, read Clarence Pfaffenberger’s The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. While it is not a great book on dog behavior, it is fascinating. You will read about the early years of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Dogs for Defense, and one of the most in depth reseach projects on dog behavior.