During World War II, the family dogs went to serve in the war

News of dogs serving in war is nothing new. It is a practice that has been practiced for decades; the United States began using dogs regularly for combat and training purposes during World War II. However, as a new program, there was not a force of dogs to choose from. Dog handlers had to train dogs, and getting them wasn’t exactly easy.

Prior to this effort, the only use of dogs in the military was as sled dogs in some arctic regions.

A boy named Clyde donates his dog, Junior, to WWII efforts through Dogs for Defense. (photo National Archives)

At first, all dogs were accepted into the military ranks through a coalition known as Dogs for Defense, Inc. (DFD). Any breed, as long as the owner was willing to part with it, was allowed to participate in military operations. Donation centers were opened where anyone and everyone could donate their dog to help the war effort. The aim was for the dogs to patrol borders, beaches, etc., and not only intimidate wrongdoers, but note anything out of the ordinary.

At a time when patriotism was essential and one of the main duties of civilians back home was to support their country, many Americans felt the need to help by donating their dog to help. The dogs were to be “deprogrammed” and returned once World War II was over.

More often than not, this meant that a family dog ​​was given to war. In total, more than 20,000 were taken on to help in World War II. Just like the soldiers, the dogs were medically assessed; those who failed were sent home. The remaining dogs then underwent a training test to ensure they could perform certain tasks.

It soon became apparent that breed mattered when it came to training and executing operations, with the military accepting only a few different dog breeds for combat. (The military was the first military branch to accept dogs into its ranks.)

Accepted breeds included:

  • German shepherd
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • belgian shepherd dog
  • Collie
  • siberian husky
  • malamute
  • eskimo dog

These dogs were chosen because of their ability to learn, their willingness to work, their ability to complete the tasks assigned to them, and their ability to withstand various weather conditions.

While this decision created better trained and more productive dogs, it also made finding dogs much more difficult. Now, there weren’t an unlimited number of dogs that could be donated to the cause, only a few breed types.

PFC Rez P. Hester of the US Marine Corps 7th War Dog Platoon on Iwo Jima takes a nap while Butch stands guard. (photo National Archives).

Another thing that became apparent is that dogs had to trust their master. The best way to earn that trust was to have them train with their assigned soldier. In some cases, and for soldiers who had a specific breed of dog, this again meant bringing their family dog ​​to basic training.

Today, it’s a scenario we can barely imagine. A massive depot of dogs supposed to learn to fight somehow – a far cry from a life of chewing sticks and begging at the table. In addition, dog training is now a strict and effective program in which dogs participate from an early age. Allowing them to be smart and efficient soldiers from puppyhood stages.

Like all military intelligence, it was soon learned that there were better ways to improve the program, such as narrowing the breeds and training with only one soldier for each dog. These adjustments allowed more dogs to join and succeed in the military. Additionally, it allowed military branches to accomplish more with the help of canine friends.


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