Dogs have been integral in world militaries since before the modern era, and continue to prove their worth on the battlefield and at home
Dogs have long been integral members of world militaries, the earliest believed to have been utilized as early as 600 BC by the Alyattes of Lydia. Today, however, active duty canines have been siphoned down to specific breeds, with the United States Armed Forces mainly focusing on three top-tier breeds.
German Shepherds are the most common dog breed in the United States Armed Forces.
German Shepherds are used for many applications, from searching for explosives and narcotics to attack the enemy, making them great as standard Military Working Dogs (MWDs). Because of their versatility, GSDs are key components for both security and combat missions where a quick change in action may be needed.
Labradors are also a popular choice in the U.S. Armed Forces, as they’re renowned for their tireless energy and sense of smell.
Because of those factors, like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers are also utilized for their bomb-sniffing capabilities. However, Labradors have the added benefit of being non-threatening in public spaces thus are typically trained as Specialized Search Dogs (SSD).
Labs typically serve between four to six years before they are retired from duty.
The third most popular breed in service, the Belgian Malinois, accounts for about 300 canines within our armed forces. These breeds have been found to be best suited for modern war due to their trainability and low aggression.
Belgian Malinois dogs have also been utilized by U.S. Forces since World War I as an alternative to the German Shepherd, following their introduction to police work in New York City in 1908. In World War I, Mals were used as messengers and Red Cross assistants, while also pulling carts of supplies.
Today, Mals are favorites of the Navy Seals, running in missions like the one that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. This breed is also versatile enough to stay away from being categorized as an SSD for its ability to switch from a search mindset to attack.
Of note, Mals are favored over GSDs by Special Forces for one particular reason: they’re easy to skydive with. Belgian Malinois are lighter than German Shepherds, making it easier for a handler to tandem jump with them, but can also be trained to jump solo.