Military to train more dogs to serve with U.S. troops
Military working dogs are playing an increasingly vital role in war zones sniffing out improvised explosives devices. Their success rate has been so great the military has funded a program to increase the number of active dogs over the next two years.
Trained military working dogs (MWD's) have been used for a variety of daily operations including reconnaissance, checkpoints, roadblocks, munitions and IED detection, guard duty, narcotics detection, tracking and apprehension of enemy combatants, crowd control and clearing buildings since the first World War. MWD's have also seen action in high profile special operations, like the raid in Pakistan that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden
In an effort to improve the battlefield capabilities of American service personnel, the military has partnered
with civilian contractors to supply MWD's, fully trained in the detection of landmines and IED's, to battlefield commands. There are 725 teams of MWD's and handlers serving in Afghanistan at this time, including 300 civilian teams. There are reportedly
40 teams stationed in Iraq.
The MWD's are paired with a civilian or military handler and used to locate explosives left by enemy fighters. The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) said
, the dogs are "tested regularly using actual landmines and explosives to ensure they can maintain the high find rates required of their job."
"But the increasing reliance on the abilities of these highly trained dogs also means some dogs will be killed or wounded in the line of duty," according to USA Today, who reported in the past eighteen months, fourteen military working dogs have been killed in action, six have been wounded, and three are missing in action.
"In addition, incidents of canine post-traumatic stress disorder are on the rise," said Lt. Col. Richard A. Vargus, chief of the law enforcement branch at CENTCOM.
The reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is that animals experience it as well as people, according
to Texas A&M. MWD's exposed to the sound of munitions exploding can react the same way as soldiers will respond in similar situations.
Lt. Col Vargus said
, "when a dog team is exposed to an IED, the handler and his dog return to their base and stand down for a couple of days. But we can't tell until the team gets ready to go outside the wire again how the dog is affected."
Some dogs that have experienced the loud noise from 'flash-bang' grenades and other explosive devices have become fearful, and need intensive re-socialization therapy. Gina, was a "playful 2-year-old German shepherd used in Iraq as a highly trained bomb-sniffing dog with the military," who came home cowering and afraid of her surroundings, as reported
by the Associated Press.
Gina needed extensive therapy and re-training to overcome her fears and return to duty in a limited capacity in non-combat zones.
Others return home with little or no visible signs of their time spent in a war zone, like Eli
, who lost his handler Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, in Afghanistan. Rusk was shot and killed by Taliban sniper fire while on patrol in the war zone. Eli stayed with Rusk until his body was retrieved, the dog was returned to Lackland Air Force Base
where he went through the 'Military Working Dog' adoption program and was given to the parents of the fallen Marine.
"Dogs who exhibit signs of PTSD undergo a re-acclimation period to see if they can be retrained and returned to duty, Vargus said. It really is difficult, because once the dog experiences these traumatic explosions, it's the same as the troops. Some dogs move right through it and it doesn't affect them. Some dogs, it takes some retraining, and some dogs just refuse to work."
To keep up with the number of dogs who can no longer work due to PTSD and other duty related injuries the "Department of Defense is funding the Tactical Explosive Detector Dog, or TEDD, program in the Army and the IED Detector Dog, or IDD, program in the Marine Corps, through 2014," according
to Vargus, "with a goal of putting more dogs out on patrol and potentially saving more troops' lives."