Military working dogs play a key role during combat operations. They are also used by military personnel for other duties such as searching for drugs and providing protection for their handlers and other military personnel. All 2,500 military working dogs are trained in San Antonio at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Dogs have heightened senses and have been used by the military since the Green and Roman eras. The first military dogs were Mastiff breeds who were equipped with spiked collars and full armor. Today, military working dogs complete rigorous training before they are stationed with their handler and unit.
Dogs have gone to combat with the U.S. military in every major conflict, however, it wasn’t until World War II that they were officially recognized. During WWI, Sergeant Stubby began his military career as a mascot for the Yankee Division of 102nd Infantry. Private J. Robert Conway smuggled him into battle where Stubby would bark warnings about enemy troops, detect enemy gas, and located war wounded.
When WWII began, the military recognized how valuable canines could be to military operations and began using them for reconnaissance. Lackland AFB has been training military canines since 1958. Known as the “Dog School”, the 341st Training Squadron trains all of the military canines. They also procure dogs for each of the services.
Chosen dogs have proven focused, aggressive behavior which can be honed into valuable canine military members. These dogs are assigned to military units all over the world and are trained by experienced dog handlers from all services. Today, the facility can train 1,000 dogs at a time in 62 different training areas. There is a training staff of 125 military members from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy.
The most popular breeds used as military canines are the German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, and retrievers. The unit raises their own dogs and purchases others from the Netherlands or Germany. The unit provides about 15 percent of its dogs from its own breeding program.
The unit began its breeding program to reduce its dependency on procuring dogs from Europe. These dogs are trained to help in the fight against terrorism, explosives, and drugs and the training unit wanted their own breeding program as insurance should something happen to the European programs.
The puppies bred at the 341st are Belgian Malinois puppies. They are fostered out with local families at age 6 to 8 weeks where they remain until they are 7 to 9 months old. While with their foster family, the puppies are socialized.
Once they are old enough, the puppies are removed from their foster homes and evaluated by the trainers in the 341st for their drive, reward response and adaptability to different environments. If acceptable, the puppies move into pre-training and then advance training. During advanced training, the puppies are trained and certified as dual-purpose dogs.
Military working dogs and their handlers form a very tight bond. Many handlers adopt their dogs upon their retirement. Military working dogs may also be adopted by private citizens although the wait list is more than a year.