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War Dogs

War Dogs

War Dogs play a vital role for Special Forces units, like being on hand to help take down the world’s most wanted terrorist…

Following the raid on the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden, war dogs have received a well deserved meteoric rise in fame and respect. Many sources claim that accompanying the 23 Navy SEALS who took down Bin Laden at his safe house in Abbottabad was one highly-trained and equipped to the teeth Belgian Malinois war dog.

The identities of the Navy SEALs who stormed Bin Laden safe house have and should remain classified, however a report from the Associated Press revealed the war dog in question to be Navy Seal Team Six’s hound, Cairo. While many sources still are still linking to this claim, the initial article seems to have been removed, which could raise concerns regarding authenticity. Nevertheless, what’s clear is that one brave mutt, did indeed accompany the unit that took down the world’s most wanted man.

War dogs are used to provide Special Forces units with tracking skills and maneuverability not possessed by humans. German Shepherd’s or Belgian Malinois are typically employed by Navy SEALs for protection, pursuit and search and rescue missions, whereas the Marines reply on Labrador Retrievers to sniff out bombs and IEDs.

war dog rico and staff sgt. philip mendoza

War Dog Rico and Staff Sgt. Philip Mendoza

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman Elizabeth Rissmiller.

Since the September 11 attacks, the number of war dogs on active duty has risen from 1,800 to 2,700. Of this number, 350 are specially trained as sniffer dogs, the others accompany Special Forces in operations such as the raid on Bin Laden.

War dogs come strapped with high-tech devices that help protect them and allow them to communicate with their handler out of line of sight. These gadgets include impact resistant infrared cameras that automatically adjust to night-vision in low light to provide live video feed in any condition; audio communications; as well as body armor that protects the dogs from gunfire, namely 9mm and .45 magnum handgun rounds, knives and shrapnel.

Canadian company, K9 Storm, were reportedly awarded a $86,000 contract to supply Navy SEAL dogs with the company’s “Canine Tactical Assault Vests”.

k9 tactical assault vest

K9 Storm Tactical Assault Vest

Image Credit: K9Storm, 2011.

There is also a range of harnesses that allow the dogs to rappel from helicopters, and even parachute. Parachuting war dogs may sound like something from a cartoon sketch, but it’s a tactic that’s been practiced since 1969, when a U.S. German Shepherd performed the first canine military parachute free fall with his handler Sergeant First Class Jesse Mendez.

In the picture below, U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Chris LaLonde, center, and his military working dog, Sgt. Maj. Fosco, are accompanied by jumpmaster Kirby Rodriguez in a free fall over Gammon Parade Field on Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., on Sept. 18, 2009.

parachuting war dog

War Dog Fosco and Army 1st Sgt. Chris LaLonde

Image Credit: U.S. Army, Sgt. Vince Vander Maarel, 2009.

The cost of training and equipping the dogs doesn’t come cheap, $100’s of thousand’s per dog. The return however, is priceless; the lives of our soldiers. Most of the dogs come from one camp, the training grounds at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The program here aims to ready at least 100 puppies for deployment each fiscal year. However, of the thousands that go through training, only a very small number stay on active duty.

From just a few days old the prospect pups are evaluated on their reflexes using a series of tests and exercises that being the ‘Super Dog Program,’ a program to designed to assess and improve the dogs cardiovascular performance.

After eight weeks the pups begin an aptitude test, which evaluates how well the dogs communicate with and respond to commands. At this point the dogs are either deemed fit or unfit for further training, which is when the real hard work at Lackland begins. After years of intensive training and bonding with their handlers, only a select few make the cut.

Below war dog, Respect, can be seen following a trail of biscuits into a darkened box as part of a test of courage and perseverance.

war dog respect

War Dog Respect

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III,

After service, the first generations of war dogs were put down because it was notoriously difficult to get them to adapt to life with civilians. However, thanks to organizations like such as the United States War Dogs Association, many wars dogs are now being adopted by suitable civilian owners.

Currently 300 war dogs go up for adoption every year, however since the raid at Abbottabad over 400 people have now applied to adopt one. The average war dog suitable for adoption is around 10 years, and costs around $2000 to have shipped back to the U.S.

The U.S War Dogs Association estimates that these valuable canines saved over 10,000 lives in the Vietnam War alone, and considering how modern technology has advanced the ability of these live-saving pups, I think it’s safe to say that war dogs have become an effective and staple addition to the units risking their lives for our freedom all over the world.

Talking with the New York Times Gerry Proctor, a spokesman for training programs at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, including the Military Working Dog School commented on how up until now, “Most of the public isn’t aware of what these dogs add to national security,” – well, we do now.

Related Posts:


  1. Adrian Covert: The Navy SEAL Team 6 Dog Is a Bigger Badass Than You. Gizmodo, 05/05/2011.
  2. Elbert Chu: The Bulletproof Dog That Stormed Bin Laden's Lair. Fast Company, 05/16/2011.
  3. Adrian Covert: WAR DOGS IN AFGHANISTAN. Gizmodo, 05/13/2011.
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