Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Young

Dogs are often called “a man’s best friend”, and rightfully so. Dogs are one of the most compassionate and loyal animals that we are so lucky to have as pets. We are even more grateful that many breeds are highly skilled and easily trained not only for everyday life, but in some cases, military operations. As a Marine Corps veteran myself, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing stories first-hand from other veterans about how loyal, diligent and intelligent military working dogs are. They are on the front lines of combat and they risk their lives for their handlers, their platoons, and their country. If you ever are unsure if military working dogs deserve respect from this country, here’s a breakdown of what a military working dog’s life entails – you’ll never question it again.

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Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock

Military Working Dogs (MWDs) are trained from young ages for service.

Consider this – men and women wait until 18 years of age to join the military and go through weeks to months of boot camp, MWDs are trained from youth. A MWD is fostered by a family close to the MWD training base, typically until the dog is one year old (but in rare cases, 2 or more). After just one year of puppy life, the future MWD is given back to the training base where they go through at minimum 6 months of training before they are certified and assigned a military base. Their whole lives revolve around learning how to apprehend suspects, detect explosives and other potential dangers, and defend and protect their handlers and platoons. MWDs train, fight, and in some cases, pay the ultimate sacrifice for this country, just like the troops do.

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Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston

Not all dogs can be military working dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, the military cannot rescue shelter dogs or receive pets donated for service. Only the most elite and obedient dogs can serve. Once chosen, a MWD’s life is changed forever. A MWD will develop a bond with his/her handler, and vice versa, which is another level of loyalty and love when faced in an environment of danger and fear. MWDs and their handlers have a bond unlike any other in the world.

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Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Campbell

Once trained and ready to serve, a MWD holds a critical position within a platoon in combat.

They are trained to bite but not kill. A strategic bite in certain areas of a suspect’s body can put them in a debilitating hold until their handler comes to apprehend them. MWDs are capable of so many things that assist a platoon in warfare, such as detecting explosives, potential danger, or an enemy. They rely on their extensive training and killer instinct, thus, protecting and saving the lives of servicemembers and civilians.

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Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock

Military Working Dogs are not brainwashed to only kill.

They are skilled troops but also loving and loyal animals by nature. They don’t receive the same exact treatment as our pets at home – they don’t get to go home with their handlers every day, and they don’t always receive the proper health care they deserve. Recent controversy about this is still ongoing, but we are on the right path. For the most part, MWDs live extraordinary lives and return home to a long waiting list of families who wish to adopt them. In many happy cases, a MWD’s handler gets to adopt his dog. Just like any case of combat, returning home and living peaceful lives are the happiest endings – and doing so with the loyal dog with whom a troop served is an incredible bonus.

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As a dog lover and Marine Corps veteran, nothing fills my heart more than the service, loyalty and love of a Military Working Dog. As a nation,

we recognize their service and dedication is just as honorable as the service of men and women who serve. A national monument was built in their honor, and we continue to do the best we can to care for them in combat, and once they return home. So, if you ever come across a MWD, be sure to give extra love to those four-legged troops!

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