After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the US military joined the American Kennel Club to form Dogs for Defense. The American Kennel Club recruited dog owners to donate quality canines to the military. The Quartermasters Corps was responsible for supply, rations and materials management. On March 13, 1942, the Army Quartermaster Corps took on the task of turning these pets into soldiers. The US Marines also trained dog handlers and dogs to become soldiers in the Pacific during World War II.
Initially over 300 dog breeds were accepted into the program but eventually the list was narrowed down to German Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, 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 conducted by the Soldiers of the Quartermasters Corps for the Army, and the Marines trained their own canines.
The training lasted 12 weeks. It started with basic obedience and progressed to training in gas masks, muzzles, military vehicles and gunfire. After basic training was completed, the dogs were transferred to specific tasks for training.
Guard Dogs: Walk on a short leash and warn their handlers by growling and barking. They were always on patrol with their caretakers.
Boy Scout or Patrol Dogs: These dogs performed watchdog duties but were trained to work silently. They spotted enemy snipers or ambushes. These canine soldiers have saved the lives of many of their handlers.
Messenger Dogs: These dogs required extreme loyalty as they were used to silently carrying messages back and forth between their two handlers.
Mine Dogs: These dogs have been trained to find tripwires and mines. During World War II, 140 dogs were trained as mine dogs, but the dogs were found to have trouble finding mines during combat.
Most of the dogs were trained as sentinels. Of the 9,300 dogs trained, 3,174 were used by the Coast Guard. These dogs were used for coastal guarding, harbor defense, and protection of industrial plants and airfields.
In 1944, the military began using dogs for combat. The combat watchdogs could spot enemy soldiers up to 1,000 meters away. To warn their handler without revealing their position, the dogs stiffened and the hair on the dog’s back stood up. Over the years, military working dogs have been used not only in WWII but also in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and are currently used in Iraq. It notes that canine war dogs have saved up to 10,000 lives in Vietnam.
One of the first war memorials was erected on Asan Beach in Guam in 1944. It was transferred to the United States Naval Base on the island in 1994. This particular memorial is dedicated to the Dobermans who served in the Marines during World War II. The inscription on the memorial statue reads… “always faithful”.
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