Today, March 13th, is K9 Veteran’s Day, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for working dogs of all kinds. One of my very first posts that I ever wrote touched on the topic of the various ways we train dogs to protect humans, and it’s something that has always amazed me. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to leave my job as a veterinary technician at a veterinary hospital and work exclusively with explosive detector (bomb) dogs, and of course I jumped at that chance. So, for the past year or so, I’ve worked exclusively with bomb dogs, and it has been an amazing experience. As you can imagine though now that I’ve been working closely with these dogs, they hold an even larger place in my heart. They are pretty incredible animals, and getting to know them and their personality, well, let’s just say that if I could, I would bring some of them home in a heartbeat.
Typically, when people think of working dogs or working K9s, they think of dogs that work for police departments or dogs that work for the military, but there is so much more to it than that.
The military does procure and train their own canines. These dogs are trained to do everything from explosive or drug detection to protection (attacking enemies) to being used as messengers to being trained as special operations multi-purpose canines (which means they need to be able to do ALL of these jobs) while being able to jump out of plane to do these jobs (like K9 Cairo, who was highly involved in the raid on Osama bin Laden). The military also uses what are often referred to as contracting working dogs. These dogs are procured and trained by private contracting companies who have been contracted out by the government to provide these highly skilled dogs. Since these dogs are in essence working for the government, they have to pass the same extreme testing and training that actual military working dogs do.
Then, of course, there are the canines that work for police departments, which the general public is typically the most aware of. These dogs hold similar jobs, as they are primarily explosive or drug protection or protection/patrol dogs. Some canines are so highly skilled that, again, they are trained as a dual-purpose canine, meaning they provide explosive detection and patrol protection or drug detection and patrol protection. These are the dogs that you often see on the TV shows where they sniff out drugs, but then when the person starts running away, they will chase after them and bite and hold until their human partner gives a release command once he is able to detain the person in question himself.
Typically, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labrador Retrievers are the primary dogs used for these jobs, but of course, every dog is an individual. These dogs have to have the exact right temperament; they have to be environmentally, physically, and mentally sound. They have to have an incredible high drive for a toy (typically a Kong). Many dogs are food reward dogs, but that requires so much more work that it’s not as common. (These dogs live with their handlers, and food reward dogs have to work for their food. They should never eat their meals out of a bowl the entire time they are an active working dog. So, think about the handler trying to take a day off or go on vacation – yep, it’s hard.) And probably one of the most important things is that they have to have an especially unique and strong bond with their handler. These teams have to put all of their trust in each other and depend on each other for their lives, otherwise, if they can’t work well together like that, then they can’t do their jobs.
There is an outstanding huge number of people out there who are anti-working dogs, and I get it. They say that we’re forcing a dog to do something dangerous, and the dog has no choice. They say it’s a terrible thing to do to a poor, innocent creature. Unfortunately though, in this day and age, these dogs are absolutely necessary. No one is denying the fact of how dangerous it is. No one is denying that these dogs absolutely are risking their lives. You also have to consider their human partner though. Unfortunately, humans don’t have the ability to sniff out hidden bombs to protect hundreds, and even thousands, of people; dogs do. The canine partners are necessary. But, let me make you feel better, these dogs LOVE their job. I assure you, most of these dogs would absolutely hate to be cooped up at home on even the most comfy couch during their young, prime, active years. These dogs want to be out running and working and chasing their Kong. And these dogs are so greatly loved by their handlers. These dogs live with their handlers, and these dogs keep their handlers warm at night in certain areas on certain jobs. These dogs are loved more than you can imagine.
And, just in time for K9 Veteran’s Day, President Obama has signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which will guarantee that all military service dogs a plane ride home and retirement on U.S. soil. Unfortunately, as much as we love our K-9 partners, there has historically been a problem with bringing these dogs home. This problem still exists. While these dogs will do anything for us, unfortunately, sometimes the government and people in charge of these phenomenal dogs seem to have a problem reciprocating that and seeing them as more than just property. While this act that President Obama signed isn’t perfect, and we still have a long way to go in retirement of military and contracting working dogs, this is a huge step in the right direction.
So, today on K-9 Veteran’s Day, just take a minute to think about the K9s that serve, as well as their human partners.
Here are some ideas on how you can help or give back to the community of K9 partners:
- Do you have the ability to foster dogs? So many military members have problems taking care of their personal pets when they find out they have to deploy. Dogs on Deployment is a fantastic organization that connects you military members in your area, so you can foster their personal pets for a few months until they come back from their deployment. That’s one thing less to worry about why they’re out serving our country.
- The BarkPost wrote a great article on how to send a care package overseas to a serving K9.
- K9s for Warriors would be a great nonprofit organization to donate to. They work to pair service canines with veterans who have PTSD so that the veteran is able to return to a normal civilian life.
- If you’re ever looking for a new member of your family, you could always consider adopting a retired military working dog. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX runs a fantastic military working dog adoption program.