What’s faster, more intimidating, and has more natural talent for counter-terrorism than a trained soldier? A Military Working Dog (MWD). 

Often overlooked as simple canine companions, Military Working Dogs are a crucial component in our arsenal, especially in the age of asymmetric warfare, global terror, and counter-drug operations. And, just like the soldier-handlers they work with, Military Working Dogs are diverse. From differences in characteristics and physicality linked to their breed to the type of training they receive (and even their personalities), a Military Working Dog is not a one-size-fits-all servicemember. 

A slew of breeds has been used in the military since dogs first took to the battlefield. As recently as World War II, the Army Quartermaster Corps trained more than 30 distinct breeds for the K-9 Corps. Over time, specific breeds emerged as more effective and reliable and the list shrunk to only five core breeds: German Shepherds, Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, and Giant Schnauzers. The exceptions have the incomparable Alaskan breeds — Malamutes and Huskies — which have continued to serve in arctic and other cold weather conditions. 

Modern warfare has changed the requirements needed for Military Working Dogs. Now, the majority of the canines in service are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. These breeds offer a special combination of loyalty, intelligence, athleticism, and aggression. Generally speaking, shepherds are the most resilient, adapting well to myriad climates and a wide array of working scenarios. Still, specialized roles require specialized traits. As a result, Retrievers, Vizslas, and even Jack Russell Terriers can be called into service.

Military Working Dogs
Spc. Michael Martinez, 3rd MP Det., Joint Base Langley-Eustis, negotiates the tactical explosives lane near the installation helipad during the TRADOC MWD Certification event on November 23. The 544th Military Police Detachment hosted the three-day event intended to gauge the effectiveness of handler-dog teams to carry out narcotics, explosive, and other missions. (DoD)

Canines generally have better eyesight and hearing than humans, but they earn their stripes through their noses. Dogs have 10 to 20 times the number of smell receptors in their noses as humans and the olfactory part of their brain is much larger proportionally. It’s this superhuman ability that makes Military Working Dogs so powerful. 

But what do Military Working Dogs do? 

There are three main types of Military Working Dogs: Single-purpose, Dual-purpose, and Multi-purpose dogs. The most common are Single-purpose dogs.