News – War Dogs

Obviously working dogs are no strangers to the blind and visually impaired community.  For the people who choose to use guide dogs, they serve as a reliable aid and a trusted friend.  But working dogs are involved in many other aspects of society as well, including wars.  With recent military events gaining international media exposure, many people have become curious about a detail that was initially brushed aside–that there was a dog with the soldiers.

Dogs have been an often-overlooked aspect of military strategy for some time.  But as with guide dogs used by the blind, they provide their handlers with key information about the world around them.  Their world is, of course, markedly different.  Whereas one of your dogs may guide you through a busy intersection, war dogs may alert soldiers about the threat of explosives.  In some cases they are used to track, in other cases, to defend or attack those who want to do them, their handlers, and other soldiers harm.

Depending on the work the dog will be doing, the breed of the dog can vary, but German Shepherds are among the most popular.  Most of them begin their lives at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, known to the military as the “dog Mecca for all service branches.”  The dogs undergo training from a very early age.  As early as their third day alive, they are put to the test so trainers can observe reflex and basic neurological responses.  At eight weeks, they are put through their first aptitude test which, among many other things, includes their ability to play fetch.

While they’re working, the dogs exhibit extraordinary bravery, just like the soldiers they work with.  The dogs will air drop into an occupied area, rappel down walls, and jump out of helicopters to swim to shore with the help of their handlers.  The parachuting is probably the most interesting because one would assume that the dog would be scared to death.  But trainers say that the dogs have no height perception.  They see the ground but cannot associate what they see with how far up they are.  If anything, they say that the wind noise is probably more bothersome.

For those of you who have a guide dog, you understand the bond that is created, and it’s no different for a military dog and their handler.  There is one story about a soldier and his dog, both victims of an IED blast.  As the soldier was being lifted into the helicopter, he yelled, “Get Cane in the Blackhawk!” before losing consciousness and perishing due to fatal wounds.  His last thoughts were of his dog.

While their purpose is inevitably grim, war dogs give the soldiers they protect an extra layer of safety that no machine could ever truly duplicate.  More than that, though, there is a psychological aspect as well, and the dogs help boost the morale of the soldiers around them.  With many battles being fought in urban territories, the usefulness of dogs will remain high, and they will continue to be a valid asset to those around them.

Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/05/12/war_dog_ii?page=0,0

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