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Unlike many other countries, when the United States entered World War II, they didn’t have a canine corps. But the military came to believe that dogs would prove an asset, so in 1942 a war dog program was introduced. Since the country was already at war, the military needed a large number of dogs right away, so they asked Americans to volunteer their pet dogs for service in the Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.
In the beginning, they accepted almost any kind of medium- to larger-size dog, but they eventually found that some breeds were better for service than others and limited the accepted breeds mainly to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies, Giant Schnauzers, Airedale Terriers, Rottweilers, Huskies, Malamutes, Eskimo dogs and mutts that were predominantly any of those breeds.
Americans volunteered almost 20,000 of their beloved pets, but only about half of that number were accepted and trained. Of those, only around 2,000 were finally sent overseas; the rest were used stateside.
The vast majority of dogs the military accepted were trained as sentry dogs. These dogs were used as guard dogs at various types of military installations and by the Coast Guard to patrol shorelines. Also highly valued, by both the Army and the Marines, were scout dogs. These dogs went ahead of patrols and silently alerted their handlers if they sensed anyone nearby.
There were other types of dogs trained by the military, but they were used less than sentry and scout dogs. These included sled and pack dogs, mine detection dogs, and messenger dogs.
After the war ended, the dogs were “demilitarized” and taught to socialize and act like normal dogs again. Dogs that successfully completed that process were sent back to their original owners—if the owners still wanted them. If the dogs were unwanted, they were either adopted by their former handlers or sold to new families. Want to see these war dogs? On Fold3, you can find a few photos of WWII’s canine soldiers and the men who worked with them:
• A photo of “Ricky,” half collie, half shepherd, of the 6th War Dog Platoon, crawling into mouth of a cave on Iwo Jima
• A photo of a Husky sled team helping to rescue the crew of a downed Douglas C-47 in Alaska
• A photo of Casimir P. “Casey” Gorajec of the U.S. Army’s Canine Corps in New Caledonia
Learn more about Word War II topics in Fold3’s World War II Collection!