Dogs have been associated with the United States Army since its inception, but their role has been primarily that of a mascot or in some other unofficial capacity. Not until World War II did the Army make the connection official. In January 1942, members of the American Kennel Club and other dog lovers formed a civilian organization called Dogs for Defense. They intended to train dogs to perform sentry duty for the army along the coast of the United States. Aware of this effort, Lieutenant Colonel Clifford C. Smith, chief of the Plant Protection Branch, Inspection Division, Quartermaster Corps, met with his commander, Major General Edmund B. Gregory, and suggested that the Army use the sentry dogs at supply depots. Gregory gave his approval to an experimental program, and on March 13, 1942, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson approved Gregory’s application and created the K-9 Corps.
Beginning in August 1942, the Quartermaster Corps established dog training centers at Front Royal, VA; Fort Robinson, NE; Cat Island (Gulfport), MS; Camp Rimini (Helena), MT; and San Carlos CA. The K-9 Corps initially accepted for training thirty-two breeds of dogs. By 1944, however, that list had been reduced to seven: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes. Approximately 18,000 dogs reached training centers after examinations by Dogs for Defense. Almost 8,000 of those animals failed exams given at the centers. Reasons for dismissal included excitability when exposed to noise or gunfire, disease, poor sense of smell, and unsuitable temperament.
The Quartermaster Corps trained dog handlers as well as the dogs themselves. Technical Manual 10-396 (1 July 1943) outlined the doctrine to be followed in the training. Normal training time for a dog was eight to twelve weeks. First the animals went through what might be called “basic training” to become accustomed to life in the military. Then the dogs received assignment to a specialized training program–sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs, or mine dogs. The Quartermaster Corps established war dog platoons in March 1944 to assist American military forces conducting offensive operations in Europe and the Pacific. Of the fifteen such platoons organized, seven served in Europe and eight in the Pacific. It has been said that, in the latter theater, the Japanese never ambushed or made a surprise attack on a patrol led by one of the war dogs. The Quartermaster Corps also experimented with training dogs to locate casualties on the battlefield. Dogs were first tested for this at Carlisle Barracks on May 4, 1944. Ultimately, the Army abandoned this program because the dogs did not or could not make a distinction between men not wounded, men who had received wounds, or men who had died.
After World War II, the Military Police Corps took over responsibility for training military dogs. They have continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts. It is estimated that the Army employed 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War. Currently, the Army has 578 dog teams which have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The courage and loyalty of these dogs have continued to save lives and prevent injuries since creation of the K-9 Corps.
By Dr. Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., U. S. Army Military History Institute