Our canine friends have a long tradition of serving in the military.There is evidence of dogs guarding army camps in the Civil War and continuing through current day in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because their sense of smell is 100,000 times better than ours, they are employed in detecting IED's. They can detect the scent of nitrates that are used in the manufacture of the explosive devices. In a dog's nose, is an area called the olfactory recess. Thousands of little bones make up the area, filtering the scents a dog brings in each time it sniffs.
The top 3 breeds used currently are German Shepherd Dogs, Labradors, and the fearless Belgian Malinois. They are used in patrol, detection and tracking, with currently over 500 dogs in active service deployed worldwide. The training they undergo is intense and thorough. Once a dog is chosen for the program, it is sent to a military training facility. Lackland Air Force Base, in Texas is the number one facility in the country. There are hundreds of dogs also employed in the private protection sector. Handlers are trained separately, before being partnered with a dog. Dogs undergo simple obedience training, and are then "conditioned" to tolerate things such as gun fire, running through hilly, sandy terrain, and leaping through windows. They are also "heat" conditioned, as temperatures in the desert can quickly reach 120 degrees. Dogs must also be desensitized to the sounds and smells of goats and other farm animals. A dog's nose works best in cool, calm weather-not easily found in Iraq.
Dogs and their trainers are often the military vagabonds. They are assigned temporarily to a company to do their "job" whether it be to clear a particular section of land, or track a suspected insurgent. Once that is done, they move on to the next platoon. That can be very challenging for soldier and dog alike, always being viewed as outsiders. There must be complete trust between the team members (dog and Trainer), as so many lives depend on them. Dogs can experience battle fatigue and once retired, are placed in new homes. There is no guarantee that a soldier may keep their partner after they leave the service. Many dogs have been diagnosed with PTSD and require behavioral and medical management for their symptoms. Animals are amazing-we cannot thank them enough for all they do for us.
The above photo is courtesy of contemporarycondition.blogspot.com