The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs

The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs

by Lisa Rogak


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Military working dogs gained widespread attention after Cairo participated in the SEAL Team 6 mission that led to Osama bin Laden's death. Before that, few civilians realized that dogs served in combat, let alone that they could parachute from thirty thousand feet up.

The Dogs of War reveals the amazing range of jobs that our four-legged soldiers now perform, examines the dogs' training and equipment, and sets the record straight on those rumors of titanium teeth. You'll find heartwarming stories of the deep bond that dogs and their handlers share with each other, and learn how soldiers and civilians can help the cause by fostering puppies or adopting retirees.

An incredible story of the largely unseen but vital role that dogs play in our armed forces, The Dogs of War is a must-read for animal lovers everywhere.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250009463
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 525,044
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

LISA ROGAK is the author of the Edgar- and Anthony-nominated Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King and editor of the New York Times-bestselling Barack Obama in His Own Words. Her son serves in the United States Army, Delta Company of the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion.

Read an Excerpt

Since the story first broke that there was a dog on the SEAL raid that brought down Osama bin Laden, there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation swirling around dogs in the military and the lives they lead.
After all, military working dogs (MWDs) are unique in the military, since they are the only living item in the entire supply chain. At the same time, however, they are regarded just like other soldiers.
“They get a place in the line just like everybody else,”1 said Army Staff Sergeant Robert Moore, a handler and kennel master with the 217th Military Police Detachment from Fort Lee, Virginia.
There will always be those critics and activists who believe that no dog should do the hard, gritty work of a soldier, let alone be subjected to sniper fire and worse in the middle of combat. However, those in the military hold firm that the life that a canine soldier leads is much more fulfilling and filled with care than that of most domestic dogs.
Besides, every dog needs a purpose.
“These dogs are treated better than anybody’s dog in the house,” said Gerry Proctor, public affairs officer for the 37th Training Wing at Lackland, where most of the military’s dogs are trained. “In fact, it’s a punishable offense in the military to maltreat or mistreat a dog.”2
This is the primary reason why the dogs are not only awarded a rank—that’s Sergeant Rover to you!—just like enlisted soldiers, but that rank is always one level higher than the handler’s. After all, if a human soldier were to physically or mentally abuse a superior in some fashion, it would be grounds for court-martial. “It’s like hitting a higher rank, and that’s not allowed,”3 said Technical Sergeant Jason Hanisko, handler with the 75th Security Forces Squadron at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah.
In fact, dogs and handlers often get upgraded to first class when they fly commercially; not only do airlines provide the upgrade as a reward for serving their country in a unique fashion, but they also rightly believe that their mere presence helps improve security on the plane. Clifford Hartley appreciates the special service.
“Many times, if the flight’s not full, the flight attendants will clear out a row of seats for us so the dog can stretch out,” he said, adding that both he and Cir appreciate it even more if there’s room in first class. “The flight attendants are always extremely nice and bring us food and drinks, and when other passengers see the dog, they always want to talk my ear off.”4
Why are these dogs cared for and treated so well? What special skills do they have that regular—human—soldiers do not?
In short, their senses of smell and hearing, and especially their loyalty, all combine into a superior ability when it comes to doing their jobs: protecting their handlers and the troops around them.
“They say one dog is worth about ten soldiers, not in their capabilities but in their senses,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant Zeb Miller, who served as handler to Nero, a German shepherd who helped him find explosives while deployed in Iraq in 2007. “Our job is to make a soldier’s job go faster.”5
When it comes to sense of smell, dogs clearly excel. While humans have around forty million olfactory receptors in their nose, dogs have two billion, which means their sense of smell can be up to one hundred times better, depending on the breed.
“Their sense of smell is so good that, for instance, with a cheeseburger, we might smell only the cheese or the burger, but they smell the cheese, the pickle, the tomato, and the lettuce,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant Patrick D. Spivey, a military handler teamed up with Bodro, a Belgian Malinois. “It is almost as if they smell it all in 3-D.”6
“A dog’s sense of smell is similar to a human’s sense of vision,” Gerry Proctor added. “While we can detect a broad spectrum in a single color and see subtle differences in tone, shade, and intensity, they can do that through scent. They could pick up an artifact that we may have had from bin Laden and then track that scent.”7
And they can do it at a distance, too, up to 250 yards away with no distractions and about 50 yards with wind and lots of competing scents. In fact, a study at Auburn University in Alabama, which has a department devoted to studying military working dogs, theorizes that dogs have the ability to detect the equivalent of a single drop of blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool, which translates to less than 500 parts per trillion.
They’re no slouches when it comes to their hearing, either, which is at once broader and more selective than ours. A dog can hear up to thirty-five thousand hertz per second while humans can barely manage twenty thousand, which means that it’s a piece of cake for them to hear footsteps nearby even when a fighter jet is taking off right next to them. They also are more sensitive to high-pitched noises and have the ability to close off their inner ear, which can help them block out background sounds in order to concentrate on a noise that’s directly in front of them.
It’s this combination of natural sensory perfection that just makes dogs—military or otherwise—so much better attuned to the world. Often it almost seems as if they’re clairvoyant and have a sixth sense that helps them to do their jobs.
“There are certain things like a dog’s sense of smell, sight, hearing, everything about them is way more in tune than ours are,” said Spivey. “You might be out on a patrol, and to you it looks like a normal road, but then your dog lets you know, hey, there’s something not right there.”8
Not to mention the fact that the ferocity of a military dog helps protect soldiers. “The intimidation factor of a barking dog is awesome,” said Petty Officer Second Class Johnny B. Mitchell. “People shut their mouths and comply.”9
When Larry Buehner was serving as a sergeant and handler in the Army’s 37th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon in Vietnam, he quickly learned never to take it personally whenever other soldiers would request his scout dog, Cali—one of the few female canines serving in the war—and not him.
Like most dog handlers, he rotated among several different companies, and after Larry and Cali had saved their butts just one time, preventing them from walking into an almost certain ambush or alerting them to a trip wire attached to a nearby mine, a company would request the team time and again. Only they asked for the dog, not the human. “They’d say, ‘Hey, is Cali available?’” Buehner remembered. “They never knew the handlers’ names, but they knew the names of the dogs.”
He took it in stride, because he knew how much a dog could lift the spirits of a fellow soldier. “The infantry was always immensely glad to see the dog handlers, because everybody loves dogs, and the dogs served as a reminder of home,” he said. “More importantly, the dogs really worked, they saved platoons and they saved lives, so everybody likes you.”
It was a well-deserved reward for an often harrowing and dangerous job. Along with other scout dogs and their handlers, the canine team’s primary job was to walk point, out in the lead in front of other troops, to detect traps, mines, snipers, and other dangers.
“If there were mines buried in the fields, Cali would just walk around them,” said Buehner. “You never questioned, you just followed the dog. If she walked that way, I walked that way.”
One day, Buehner’s squad was ordered to cover a circular piece of jungle and push any Viet Cong in it toward another squad, which would then ambush them. While scout teams usually followed a trail and stayed oriented by having one man read a map and another one follow with a compass, on this particular day, the squad was breaking through jungle and brush. The growth was not thick enough that the men had to machete it, so Buehner could still keep a watchful eye on Cali’s movements several yards ahead.
Suddenly, Cali froze, so Buehner radioed his commanding officer to tell him that the dog alerted. The next move was for a few other soldiers to investigate. After staring into the jungle, however, the lieutenant told the squad that there wasn’t any danger—essentially saying that the dog had lied—and to move on.
Against Buehner’s better judgment, he reluctantly agreed and walked only two more feet before Cali alerted again—more strongly than before—and stopped in her tracks. He repeated that the dog alerted again, but the lieutenant insisted that he ignore the dog and keep moving. Risking insubordination, Buehner told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t budging and that he needed to see what was going on out there. But something had sparked his caution even more: The other squads in the vicinity shared the same radio frequency, and he’d overheard their radio operator say that his counterpart on the other squad had heard movement directly in front of them.
With a fuming higher-up breathing down his neck, Buehner asked his radio operator to get his counterpart’s location. After conferring back and forth, it turned out that Buehner, Cali, and the troops directly behind him were the cause of the movement and were only about one hundred yards away from the other squad. “If we had gone on any further, we would have walked right into their ambush,” he said. “Cali saved our lives.”
Buehner risked insubordination, but after working with Cali, he knew that the dog always knows best. “You’ve got to take command when you know the dog is doing the right thing,” he said.
Photo: Lawrence Buehner
“A military dog’s presence brings both a psychological deterrent and a whole new level of assurance, whether it’s during patrols, detection, or the protection of the troops the dog’s with,”10 said Staff Sergeant Jonathan Bierbach, a handler with the 379th Security Forces Squadron who works with a three-year-old German shepherd named Deni.
“For some people, just walking into a room where there’s a dog is enough,” says Ken Licklider, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant who now owns Indiana-based Vohne Liche Kennels, which trains dogs for law enforcement agencies and the military. “It could be a Chihuahua, it could be a German shepherd, they would be just as afraid. When the dogs come on the scene, the [suspect] is obviously in a state of stress so naturally the dogs are going to key in on him and go into that mode where it looks like they’re in an attack mode. But in actuality, they’re just interested, and they smell the fear.”11
“We take soldiers’ lives out of danger, in a sense, because instead of sending them out there to search for IEDs, we can use the dogs to do it,” said Sergeant First Class and handler Charles Shepker. “Our dogs can do things a lot faster than it would take humans to do them, and their senses of smell, sight, and hearing are far better than those of humans. I always trusted my dogs with my life. The other guys I was working with trusted the dogs’ noses with their lives. Downrange or overseas, most people feel a lot safer when they have dogs with them.”12
“Without dogs, you’re just poking around with a stick, just waiting to get blown up,” said Lance Corporal William Crouse IV. But that doesn’t mean these canine-human teams aren’t still putting themselves in dangerous situations. Corporal Crouse was killed with his dog Cane on December 21, 2010, by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan only six weeks into his first tour of duty. His last words: “Get Cane in the Blackhawk!”13
“These dogs are our partners,” said Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael Thomas, a kennel master with the 25th Military Police Company, 25th Infantry Division. “We travel with them, sleep with them, and live with them. They are our best friends. Every dog handler will agree that there is nothing we won’t do to protect our dogs.”14
However, the most important aspect of having a dog travel with a unit is simple: Their presence saves lives. “People don’t realize how many lives MWDs save,” said Chief Master at Arms Ricky Neitzel, kennel master of Naval Station Rota’s Spain Security Department. “There are [many] instances in which MWDs have located explosive-laden vehicles or [detected] improvised explosive devices designed to kill or injure U.S. forces, as well as locating numerous weapons caches of small arms and ordnance used by insurgents and terrorists.”15
Uncle Sam Wants You!
Today, roughly three thousand military working dogs are employed by the Pentagon and serve around the globe in all branches of the services. Approximately six hundred of those dogs are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, a figure that is projected to increase in the next year or two.
The problem for the military right now is that there aren’t enough dogs. Even with a developing breeding program at Lackland, purchasing puppies from private breeders, and contracting with private companies that provide ready-trained dogs to the military, the supply doesn’t come close to meeting the demand. The training and breeding facilities at Lackland are filled to capacity, and still the Pentagon can’t acquire the number of dogs the military needs to operate at optimal capacity.
This is not a new problem. More than a decade ago, the problem was just as acute, though the reasons were a bit different.
“Because of the high operational tempo in Southwest Asia and the Balkans, there is currently a home-station shortage of military working dogs,”16 said Bob Dameworth, former manager of the military working dog program at Lackland, back in 1999. Even then, his department was managing the logistics of almost twelve hundred canine soldiers not only for the military but also for the Secret Service, the CIA, and other government agencies, as is the case today.
Sometimes dogs are loaned out for special occasions, to protect dignitaries, or just to fill in the gaps when extra help is needed. “Year-round, on average we assign about eight dogs per day to dignitary-protection missions, though we’ve had as many as a hundred and eight dogs on assignment on a single day,” Dameworth added.
For instance, some dogs from Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base worked the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004. The Department of Defense also lends the canine teams to Border Control and Customs, which helps develop the skills of both dog and handler. However, there are several conditions attached: First, wherever the dog goes, the handler follows. Plus, their duties are restricted to their detection skills, either drugs or explosives; they don’t conduct general searches or receive orders to attack.
Today, all branches of the military are clamoring for more canine-handler teams. The Marine Corps is aiming to deploy over six hundred bomb-sniffing dogs to Afghanistan alone, which more than doubles the number they had just five years ago.
“We are putting in a great effort to get more dogs in,”17 said Major General Richard P. Mills, whose goal is to have one dog handler team for every unit that heads out on patrol.
General James Amos, Marine Corps commandant, agrees. “The Taliban are very clever at hiding multiple IEDs and placing them in the ground,” he said. “Dogs are not the only solution, but overall, the dog program has been very successful.”18
For one, military working dogs turn the traditional concept of warfare on its head. Ron Aiello, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam with a German shepherd named Stormy, put it this way: “As Marines, we were trained to kill the enemy to protect our country. That was our job. But as a dog handler, our role was reversed. Our job was to save lives. And with our dogs, we did that. We saved American lives.”19
At the same time, the lives of the dogs are on an equal footing with those of their handlers: Just as it is unthinkable to leave behind a wounded or dead Marine, troops would carry injured or dead dogs out of the jungle with them, as was the case in Vietnam, even if it took days of trudging in temperatures well into the triple digits, with drenching humidity to boot.
The challenges MWDs face are like those of any other soldier on the front lines: They get shot at, face unexpected accidents, get sick or injured, and have to deal with harsh climates. In the Middle East, the dogs face a vicious climate where temperatures can reach over 120°F. The rugged terrain wreaks havoc on their eyes due to windblown sand, and their paws endure walking on rocks and hot sand. Yet these canines keep going, their loyalty never in doubt in wartime.
One reason: Despite the challenges, finding the bad guys—or the bombs—is all play to them.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Joel Townsend’s partner is Sergeant First Class A-Taq, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois. Townsend is quick to point out that A-Taq—like any other well-trained MWD—doesn’t suddenly turn vicious because he knows the difference between good and evil. “The work is fun for these dogs,” he said. “It’s their mission. If he finds a bomb or a bad guy, he gets rewarded. And I know he’ll never hesitate. Every time we go out on patrol, I put my life in his paws, and so far we’ve been doing all right.”20
The Ideal Recruit
Military working dogs aren’t a recent phenomenon, and new candidates have always been in high demand. According to Encyclopædia Britannica of 1922, here’s what the British military required in their canine soldiers:
In determining a particular dog’s suitability for war training, his physical condition should first be considered. Strength and agility combined, of course, with intelligence are in fact indispensable qualities. The chest should be broad, the legs sinewy and the paws of firm construction. Colour must also be taken into account. White dogs and those of “check” colouring are obviously unsuitable for war purposes since they would constitute too conspicuous a target.
Sex, again, plays a part. A bitch in heat will throw a pack into excited confusion and therefore, though trials have proved that bitches are more apt at learning and are more trustworthy, they are not suitable for use in war. Castrated dogs, on the other hand, lack courage and temperament and are useless for work in the field. With regard to age, it has been said that the dogs chosen for war training should not be less than one year and not more than four years old.21
Not much has changed, except that now females can serve as long as they are spayed. Male canine soldiers, however, are left intact.
The Navy recently put out a request describing the kinds of dogs they are looking for, imploring professional civilian dog breeders and trainers to get in touch about supplying them with candidates.22 Here are some of the specifications:
• Male German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds weighing less than 70 pounds.
• The age of potential dogs must be between 18 and 36 months.
• Pre-trained dogs in explosives detection and patrol may be accepted.
• Vendors must allow buyer to perform an extensive testing process prior to purchase, to include muzzle work, bite suit, darkened areas, steps, slick floors, gunfire, vehicles, etc.
• All dogs must be generally alert, active, outgoing, curious, and confident. They must display basic socialization and tolerance to people.
• Dogs must be in excellent health with no acute or chronic disease or condition.
• All dogs must display normal mobility at a walk or run.
• Skin and coat must be healthy in appearance, displaying no evidence of chronic dermatitis, allergies, infections, injuries or external parasite infestation.
• Dogs will have normal dental occlusion, not overshot or undershot jaws. All four canine teeth must be present and must not be weakened by notching, enamel hyperplasia or abnormal, excessive wear.
• Heart sounds, rate and rhythm must be normal (e.g. no murmurs, arrhythmia, etc.). The cardiovascular and respiratory system must be normal at rest and upon exercise.
Then there’s this list of what they’re not looking for:
• Over-aggressive dogs that are unable to work around people or other dogs.
• Dogs that cannot be muzzled.
• Dogs that are difficult to crate or uncrate.
• Dogs that exhibit excessive panting not due to heat or exercise.
• Dogs that are afraid, nervous or shy around people.
• Dogs that exhibit sensitivity or fear to surroundings such as the insides of buildings with different types of floor surfaces, stairs, or confining areas.
• Dogs with low drive or dogs that do not have the desire to complete the task.
• Dogs introduced to or trained to detect drugs and later trained to detect explosives or vice versa.
• There should be no indication of hip or elbow dysplasia.
• Any defect in the nervous system, to include the basic senses of vision, hearing, and sense of smell, is disqualifying. Examples include, but are not limited to, opacities of the cornea, eyelid deformities, cataracts, retinal degeneration, chronic otitis, acute or chronic rhinitis/sinusitis and spinal disease.
• All dogs must be free of heartworms.
• All dogs presented must have been vaccinated within the previous 12 months from rabies, canine distemper, canine adenovirus (Type 2), corona virus, Para influenza, parvovirus and leptospirosis.
And so on. Other restrictions include an agreement to guarantee the health of the dog for two years and his workability for six months or else the seller will either refund the money or offer a replacement dog if a purchased dog fails to meet even one of the criteria.
And those prerequisites are just the beginning. We haven’t even touched on how the military tests potential recruits. Here’s more from that same government solicitation:
• Dogs must have extreme retrieve-and-hunt drive for thrown toys, and dogs must have extreme possessiveness of such toys.
• Dogs shall be neutral and be able to work around all kinds of animal distractions.
• Dogs must be able to work extensively in a muzzle, tasks that include running away while muzzled, engaging a motionless decoy, and remaining aggressive for at least one minute with no help from the handler.
• Dogs must be calm around all types of vehicles to include trucks, ATVs, helicopters, and airplanes.
• Dogs must have no fear of gunfire to include pistol, shot guns, automatic machine guns, grenades, and breaching charges.
Tough customer, that Pentagon. But these dogs have an important job to do, to keep themselves and their troops out of harm’s way, so it’s imperative that the rigorous screening continue. After all, by the time a military working dog is bred or purchased and trained, ready to deploy, the total investment is estimated to range from $40,000 to $50,000.
“These dogs are one of the few items in the military force protection arsenal that increase in the amount they are worth as they age versus depreciating,” said Major Kelley Evans, a veterinarian stationed in Kuwait in 2003.23
Indeed, in the fall of 2010, the Pentagon announced that after six years and $19 billion spent in the attempt to build the ultimate bomb detector technology, dogs were still the most accurate sniffers around. The rate of detection with the Pentagon’s fanciest equipment—drones and aerial detectors—was about 50 percent effective, but when a dog was involved it rose to 80 percent.
“There isn’t a piece of equipment that can do what a dog can do,”24 said Air Force Technical Sergeant R. Duval, kennel master with the 48th Security Forces Squadron.
Becoming an MWD Handler
Of course the dogs are vitally important, but the other half of a team—the human half—is just as important to creating a successful military working dog package.
Especially after the excitement generated from the news of Cairo’s presence on the Osama raid, inevitably there are more civilians considering a career with the military just so they can become a handler and work with these magnificent dogs.
Be warned: The job is not as easy as it looks. For one, becoming a handler is more complex than it first seems. You can’t just enlist and be made a handler. Military working dogs are typically assigned to security units, so first you’ll have to prove your mettle as a military cop for at least two or three years. Handlers are also responsible for every part of a dog’s care, not just the working hours and training.
“Some people perceive that the handler’s job is to hold the dog’s leash and command them to attack a perpetrator,” said Staff Sergeant Benjamin Collins, of the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, who’s partnered with Densy, a Belgian Malinois. “Our job is a lot more involved than that for sure. Being a handler is like being a parent. The dogs need care and attention as much as any child. We have to be tuned in to our dogs in every way—everything from knowing their temperature to their temperament. These dogs are like humans in that they have good days and bad days, too. It’s up to us to know the signals.”25
“Cir is bipolar,” Clifford Hartley said of his partner. “He gets mood swings just like people. One moment he’s happy, then the next he’s angry, but no one else notices except me. I know that’s the time to just leave him alone, and I tell him go back to your house, buddy, it’s time to quit.”26
Another hurdle is that even getting accepted to train to become a handler requires lots of patience, sometimes years. Air Force Senior Airman Mark Bush is teamed up with a Belgian Malinois named Chukky, though he wasn’t a handler when he first signed up with the military. In March 2004, he was deployed to Iraq, where he met a canine handler with the Navy, and he was amazed not only by what the dog could do but also by the relationship between the two and the work ethic they shared. He began to investigate what it would take to become a handler, and after he deployed to another location, he asked the kennel master what it would take to become a handler himself.
“Back then, you had to have the kennel master’s approval to attend K9 training,” said Bush. “Being a handler takes a lot of initiative and work outside of your regular duty day, and he wanted to make sure I knew that canine was hard work.”27
But before he received the kennel master’s blessing, Bush was required to spend eighty hours over a period of several weeks volunteering at the kennel in addition to his regular duties.
“Three or four people wanted to go K9 at the same time as me,” he said. “We started out mopping floors and scrubbing baseboards. The handlers would move the dogs out of their kennels and I’d have to clean up after them; it’s a constant job. It was hard work, and by the end of the week I was the only one who stayed with it. I kept up with it for a few more weeks and then I got to go out to train with the K9 department, which made me really excited about going to school.”
Bush’s experience isn’t unusual. Being a military dog handler is anything but a glamour job, so the kennel master wants to make sure a prospective handler knows the ins and outs of the job before signing on for extensive training. Technical Sergeant LeighAnn Weigold is a handler with the 437th Security Forces Squadron, and like Bush, for more than a year she had to spend her free time cleaning kennels, feeding and caring for the dogs, and following handlers’ orders before she was accepted into the training program.
Another necessary task is serving as a decoy—in other words, to voluntarily allow a dog to attack you and try to rip you to shreds. Of course, decoys wear protective guards and wraps on their bodies to protect them from the dog’s bites, but the first time always brings a certain reluctance. “It’s scary at first,” said Weigold, “and some dogs are more intimidating than others.”28
Joel Townsend actually spent three years volunteering as a decoy and cleaning kennels before he was accepted into the dog handler program, after which he was eventually paired up with A-Taq. And while the job, of course, requires a handler to be an animal lover, he or she needs to be a people person as well, so when it comes to the job, introverts need not apply. “I’ve always been an extroverted person, and that’s exactly what you need in order to work a dog,”29 said Private First Class Justin Kintz, who works alongside a Belgian Malinois named Elco.
He’s also had to adopt a few quirks of his own that might prove to be embarrassing in certain circles, since he discovered that Elco pays more attention to him if he speaks in “a high-pitched, girly voice.”
But he doesn’t mind, and neither do other handlers. In fact, it seems that another requirement for a good handler is just being a bit different. “It’s not just a job for us, it’s a passion,” said Technical Sergeant Len Arsenault, kennel master at Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, Massachusetts. “We’re kind of odd people.”30
“We belong to a strange fraternity,” said Hartley. “We’re a different kind of group of people. We have a fun work environment and we know how to goof around and not take things so seriously all the time.”31
*   *   *
Joseph Villalobos, a contracted dog trainer with Northrop Grumman, agrees. “Working with the military working dogs is an outstanding job,” he said. “Our canine family is tight and the camaraderie is always high.”32
A good dose of passion also comes in handy, since a handler’s job is truly never done. “Training a military working dog is never complete and no day is ever the same,”33 said Air Force Staff Sergeant Travis Hazelton, who worked with a ten-year-old German shepherd named Sinda when he was deployed in Iraq with the 37th Security Forces Squadron.
“You’re never actually done training your dog because there is always more you can do or fine-tune. Military working dogs are like privates, who are brand-new to the Army. They must be taught everything about their jobs, beginning with the most basic principles, because they don’t know anything. Then they need constant training to keep them focused on performing their missions.”
“It’s just like anything else,” said Specialist Jason David, who works with Sergeant Bandit, an English springer spaniel, a hunting dog of medium size with a white belly and brown covering most of its back and head, save for a thin white stripe down its forehead. “If you don’t train, you’ll lose it.”34
When Hartley and Cir worked together, they trained an average of one and a half hours each day. “There are certain requirements we have to meet each month, so the training is constant,” he said. “If we stop training, the dog goes downhill too. He gets lazy if he doesn’t work, almost like he remembers how to do this, but he doesn’t want to. But after a weekend off, they’re all ready to work because they’re bored, since they’ve been sitting back in the kennels for two full days.”35
“It’s a lot of work keeping the dogs groomed and cleaning the kennels,” said Army Specialist Damen Tokarz with the 554th Military Police Company, whose partner is a German shepherd named Cedo. “We clean their runs every day, scrub them from top to bottom and disinfect them once a week, bathe the dogs a minimum of once every two weeks, brush them at least every other day, and feed, water, and give them their medicine. Being a dog handler is a thoroughly enjoyable job, but it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding,” Tokarz said.36
And another part of the downside of being a military dog handler: The paperwork will kill you.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much paperwork is involved with a dog,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant Glenn Gordon, who works alongside Ricky, a German shepherd. “My dog has been in the military for five years. Every single day of this dog’s life, his records have to be updated.”37 After all, when a dog does his job, everything is noted on his permanent record, from weight to training to mood and temperament out in the field, as well as where the dog traveled in the course of a day. After all, someday in the future, something that a dog does—like attack—or finds—like drugs—has to have detailed documentation or else the evidence may be thrown out in court.
“It’s not like my dog found marijuana and now I’m done for the day,” Gordon continued. “I also have to maintain the dog’s training. He’s just like a little kid. If he doesn’t continue to tie his shoes, he’s going to forget.”
Gordon’s colleague Air Force Staff Sergeant Robert Black, whose partner is a German shepherd named Aaron, has some advice for would-be military dog handlers. “If you want to be a dog handler, go to your local kennel and talk to them and get your hands mixed in there to see how it really is,” he said. “You’re not just sitting in an air-conditioned car riding around with a dog. You get to do some pretty cool stuff, but there’s actually a lot that you don’t see. That’s the stuff you need to seek out to make sure this is what you want.”38
Despite the heavy workload, most handlers don’t regret anything about their jobs. And Black has another word of warning: Handling a dog isn’t just a job; it’s a close personal relationship. “You always remember your first dog,” he said.

Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Rogak

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The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Michigan-Book-Lover More than 1 year ago
This was an enjoyable read. The explanations of every aspect of Military Working dogs was described in detail without bogging down. Lots of historical references and first hand descriptions of the relationship between handler and dog. I was surprised by a lot of the medical information. I've got a much greater appreciation and respect for the work these amazing animals perform.
missmistysmom More than 1 year ago
Made me understand why dogs are so inportant in war.
james7163 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Dogs of War: The Courage, Love, and Loyalty of Military Working Dogs Lisa RogakThanks to Netgalley and Macmillan for the opportunity to read and review this book prior to its release date.Great book about perhaps the lesser known and certainly less appreciated soldier, the military dog. Kogak provides us a myriad of personal insights into the lives of the dogs and their trainers. These incredible dogs have been serving alongside our service members for decades. Our soldiers rely upon them heavily to seek out dangers we as humans couldn¿t possibly do and in the process have saved countless lives. Rogak does an excellent job providing the history of the military dog, the complex system of selecting the right ones for duty, the rigorous and constant training dogs and trainers must endure, and the close personal relationships that develop between of dog and trainer. Her book is quite timely with the recent public interest and story about Cairo, the military dog who was with Seal Team 6 when they raided Osama Bin Laden¿s hideout in Pakistan. Rogak does well to include a segment about Cairo and the raid in her book.
iamjackson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a nice book to just pick up when I had the time, and I did pick it up. It had a lot of the information I had hoped for, and cute stories as well. It was what I expected from the description :]
paolasp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow! I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I was nervous because though I absolutely love dogs, I am not a big fan of War. Yet I really did enjoy reading this book and learning more about military working dogs. The pictures they include are great and really add to personality of the book. Though I will warn you that the parts about dogs and Vietnam was terribly sad. I hated seeing how Vietnam not only was about ignoring the human being's well being but also that of the dogs they worked with. I'm so glad that many of these Vietnam Vets have worked so hard to make current military dog's lives so much better. I recommend this book wholeheartedly!
CassandraLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting, in that it talked about dogs and how they have served in the wars. There are little snippets about the particular dogs and heroic stories about that particular dog. The book talked about the training of the animals and what being a handler of a dog entails. The bond between the handlers and their dogs is prevalent. However, at parts it felt like the book was just quickly thrown together. It was organized but repetitive and a little dry at parts.
NotSunkYet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
More like reading one long newspaper article than a book.
sleahey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating account of the important role that military dogs play in our country's defense. Their impact is dramatic when the thousands of lives they save by bomb-sniffing are considered, and the author illustrates that impact in many ways. The anecdotes are engaging, and often read like short stories; the factoids about cost, medical care, and equipment are often surprising; and the emotional impact of the relationship between handlers and dogs is moving. Two sections of color photographs makle for enjoyable browsing. The tone of this book is conversational, informal yet smart, and will appeal to a range of ages and interests.
schmapp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book really gave an insight to military working dogs. It was filled good information and a lot of stories.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
THE DOGS OF WAR proved only mildly interesting to me. Not quite a disappointment, but not particularly engaging either. Rogak did a more than adequate job of researching her subject - the use of dogs by the military in both peace and war - but the narrative had a rather herky-jerky feel, as she interspersed personal anecdotes and handler interviews with historical data and more official military definitions and training regimens for dogs and handlers. There have already been countless books written on the subject of dogs in war, and this one does not, in my estimation, add much of value. I had the feeling that writing this book was just a 'job' for Rogak. And sure enough, in the acknowledgements page, she thanks "Tom Dunne [the publisher] for coming up with the idea for THE DOGS OF WAR and entrusting the execution of the book to me." The book's prologue, which features the role of military working dog (MWD), Cairo, in the killing of Osama bin Laden, is perhaps the most interesting portion of the book. And then in the introduction, Rogak notes that "since the Cairo story hit, everyone wants to know more about these brave canines who venture into war zones with their human partners." So yes, I got the sense that the book was rather hastily slapped together in a rather opportunistic fashion, hoping to cash in on the flurry of interest in the mission that took out bin Laden. It has a very appealing cover and will undoubtedly sell well. But if you're looking for a good "dog book," then this will be a disappointment. While the writing is workmanlike and professional, THE DOGS OF WAR reads too much like a term paper, and it's simply not very interesting. Maybe a C+ to a B-.
alsvidur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Dogs of War" covers the basics of military working dogs in an easy-to-read format. IT includes color photographs and mini-biographies of dogs and their handlers. There were lots of quotes throughout the book - almost too many - and notes and places to go if you were interested in more information. The information covered was very basic, and included the gear, veterinary care, life, and history of MWDs. I was a bit disappointed in the sections on veterinary care and training: there was very little information and what was there was the most basic of summaries. Otherwise, it was an entertaining book that covered a subject not frequently found in regular 'dog books'.
Mariah7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dogs of War was a great read. It had many different interesting short stories. To be honest I am surprised it only as a 3.6 average review. Im not sure what they were looking for. Definently a good read and people interested in dogs will find it very insightful. I learned so many little details.
eo206 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are a dog lover this is a great book for you. Dogs of Wars goes into the history and inner workings of military working dogs, sometimes known as MWDs. The book details the history of K9 units going back to WWI through today. There are interesting facts about how dogs have contributed to keeping their military units safe as well as what it takes to train a working dog.The book also interspeces profiles of notable dogs and handlers. These profiles clearly show the bonds, value, and loyalty dogs have in the military.This was a fast read. It is suitable for older elementary school students, middle school on upwards. The book may also interest boys who are reluctant readers; this may appeal to them if they enjoy animals, especially dogs.
mamzel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The attack on Bin Laden's compound took place in March of 2011 and this book was published in October. That was a fast turn out to answer questions many people had about the dog that was part of the assault team. And answers we have. How the dogs are chosen and obtained, how they are trained, paired with a handler, cared for when in service, and what happens to them when their service has ended for one reason or another. The reasons dogs are used in the first place are to utilize their amazing abilities to smell and hear and the fear they strike in many of the enemies soldiers face these days.The investment in these dogs is impressive, both with time for training, creating items that help insure their health in hostile environments, and most recently, and the assurance that they are seen after in a respectful way (for at least two thirds of the survivors). One fact I found fascinating was that dogs are given a rank higher than their handler so if they are abused, the handler may be court-martialled.The author liberally inserts anecdotes from foster parents, handlers, trainers, vets, and those who adopt them later. The stories about these dogs are truly amazing.The only objection I have is to the lay out of the book. The chapters are interrupted by highlighted stories of individual dogs. I would have preferred to read these in between chapters since they broke the flow of the chapter. There are also two sections of color photos of the dogs and their handlers that are placed between sections.
kimlord on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is worth a read. The author delves into the history of "dogs of war" and uses case studies to illustrate how dogs are used in the military. Not exactly for the faint of heart, in that the dogs are seen as "commodities", expensive ones at that when one considers cost of training. Many dogs have been killed by IEDs, where human soliders would have been in danger. War is ugly but dogs play an intregal and important part in many, many missions.
Rbeelee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book. I liked how the author organized her subject. She appeared to use the army field manual as a framework or outline but interspersed real stories to take what would otherwise be very dry and made it very personal. It was drier than I would normally like but I was very interested in the topic and for that she has it well laid out. I enjoyed learning how dogs have been used in the military and how important they've been. Thanks for the book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book sounds really good. Alot of people dont appreciate dogs that much anymore. This is what dogs can do for us. They can save our lives!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RIF07 More than 1 year ago
The book is overly focused on the mystery of the military (SOCOM, Special Equipment, etc). It captures many dogs and their handlers. The author did travel about to get many different views about MWDs. The book got redundant and predicatable. All topics were covered but the depth was lacking. Topics included: History, training, breeding, testing, employment, retirement, Vet care, trama, diesese, PTSD, adoption, memorials, cemetaries, organizations, protective equipment, breeds, WWII national mobilization, envirenmental effects, unit canine mascots, feral dogs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Talked to much about the war
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a child i loved dogs.when i was nine for my brithday my mom got me a dog.he ment everything to me. At this time me dog is 4 years old.he is a yorkie and really playful and cute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi i love you