In honor of Veterans Day, Fi travelled back in time to investigate the incredible history of dogs serving in the United States military.

March 13, 1942 marks the day when dogs began officially serving in the military. Although there is a record of dogs in combat prior, it was on this day that Dogs for Defense was established in an effort to recruit the public’s dogs for the U.S. military’s War Dog Program. That’s right - the organization appealed to private citizens to donate their personal pups to the war effort.

The dogs that were donated were sent off to ‘basic training’, where experts decided whether or not they were fit for duty. Those who passed were sent into battle as mine-detectors, messengers, and more, whereas those who did not pass were returned to their owners. By the end of WWII, Dogs for Defense successfully recruited over 15,000 dogs.

American dogs worked hard in The Vietnam War, too. However, they were considered ‘Surplus Equipment’ and most did not return to the United States after their service. Luckily, ‘no soldier left behind’ now applies to dogs serving in the military, too. Robby’s Law allows for these ‘retired’ dogs to be put up for adoption rather than abandoned or euthanized. What is it about dogs that make them valuable servicemen?

  • Sense of smell: far superior to humans, they can sniff out IEDs, enemies, and other dangers.
  • Loyal: protecting their fellow soldiers with no hesitation
  • Agile: the ability to navigate rough terrain and narrow obstacles
  • Emotionally intelligent: remaining calm when necessary, but can be trained to react appropriately at a moments notice
  • Brave: performing tasks and embarking on missions no matter the danger they’re faced with

Let’s meet some of the most famous military K9 heroes...

Chips the Shepherd Mix: Army

Chips was donated by his New York based family to the war effort and boy did it pay off. He captured and detained enemy soldiers, as well as alerted his fellow soldiers of an upcoming ambush. Chips earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, making him the most decorated military dog of World War II.

Nemo the German Shepherd: Air Force

Nemo saved his handler during an enemy attack in Vietnam in 1966. Though he was shot twice, he prevailed to keep the enemy at bay until his handler could call for help. He received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his bravery.

Cairo the Belgian Malinois: Navy SEALs

Cairo was a member of Seal Team Six, responsible for killing Osama bin Laden, the only K9 member of the operation.

Lucca the Malinois mix: Marines

Lucca completed two separate tours as an explosive detecting dog, a task which cost her one of her legs - but one that also saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers. For her service, she was given the Dickin Medal, and an honorary recipient of a Purple Heart by one of the fellow Marines on her team.

Conan the Belgian Malinois: Special Forces

Conan took part in the mission that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Conan trapped Baghdadi in a tunnel, heroically leading the way for the team to complete their mission. Though Conan was injured, she has since made a full recovery and was honored at the White House Rose Garden in a special ceremony in 2019.