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Soldier Dogs in World War II

Not long after Pearl Harbor was bombed, many patriotic Americans sought answers to the question “What can I do?” The answer to that question came in a unique and unheard of way when a group of dog breeders and trainers got together and began a program called Dogs for Defense. Americans everywhere began to volunteer their pet dogs to enter the service of their country to be trained to aid the military in war efforts overseas.

 

Owners wanting to donate their dogs to the war effort would contact Dogs for Defense and take their dog to one of many regional centers set up to receive donated dogs. All dogs were subjected to a battery of medical tests to make sure they were fit for training and military duties.  Dogs who did not pass these initial tests were returned to their owners, those selected were then sent on to an Army or Marine training facility where they were given more medical tests in addition to intelligence testing to determine what field each dog was best suited for. Those dogs that passed this stage were then assigned a regiment along with a handler and their military training commenced.

 

All war dog training began with the basic commands of sit, stay and heel. These commands were taught both verbally and with hand signals. In combat, where any sound could alert the enemy to the presence of a patrol, it was critical that a dog and his handler be able to communicate silently. Dogs were also trained to neither bark nor growl for the same reason. They were trained on obstacle courses where they were called on to jump, climb, crawl, wade, and swim to complete their assigned missions.

 

After mastering basic obedience training a dog then had to be acclimated to the military procedures it would be exposed to. Riding in jeeps and trucks, as well as wearing gas masks and muzzles, all played a part in this training. One of the most important parts of their training was desensitization to the sounds of rifle and artillery fire.

 

Once a dog graduated basic obedience, military procedure and desensitization training, it was time to determine what job he would be best suited to. With that decided the dog would enter specialized training for his specific job. Scout, sentry and patrol dogs were trained to alert their handler to the presence of another person. Scout dogs also learned to work off leash. One intriguing aspect of their training and work was the collar they wore. They wore a different type of collar when training or working and another type for resting. In this way dogs knew the behavior that was expected of them according to the specific collar they wore.


Until 1942, the coast guard conducted armed mounted patrols of America’s beaches and coastlines using only horses. The coast guard then decided that dogs, with their keen sense of smell and their ability to be trained for guard duty, would prove invaluable in enhancing beach patrols. The beach patrol used approximately two thousand dogs in its operations. The dogs were acquired through Dogs for Defense and trained in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Night patrols operated in a continuous chain from Maine to Florida, from around the Florida Keys to Corpus Christi, Texas, and from Southern California to Washington’s Puget Sound. Dog patrols worked mainly at night, although in sensitive areas there was a twenty-four-hour sentry dog and handler on duty. All areas were under a twenty-four-hour lookout. Working at night took advantage of the dog’s keen sense of smell and ability to detect movement. The dog would work on a leash and alert its handler to the presence of something out of the ordinary. Trained dogs could run down and attack unauthorized persons on beaches. There was a standard procedure to follow in case of an enemy landing. Intercepting and capture of spies and saboteurs was imperative to keep America’s enemies from gaining sensitive information or carrying out plans of destruction aimed at crippling the war effort here at home.



The United States used many types of different animals, in addition to dogs, to aid in the war efforts of World War II. And though these animals were used for utilitarian purposes their importance as companions can not be overlooked. They provided friendship and comfort to the humans they worked beside and strong bonds were created. Many units, ships, and individuals had mascots that provided welcome relief from the monotony and fear of life at sea or in combat zones.

 

At the end of the war all surviving dogs went through demilitarization training and were returned to their original owners, if possible. Others were adopted by their handlers or by other Americans anxious to open their homes to these returning heroes. Their amazing work and sacrifices opened many doors for today’s working dogs and so their legacy lives on.

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