Did you know that there are roughly 2,500 active duty service dogs? Of those, nearly 700 are deployed overseas. Military service dogs are also awarded with rank for their service; some even outrank their handler.
Most (85 percent) military service dogs come from Germany or the Netherlands, a top military dog breeding ground for hundreds of years. Preferred breeds include German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois, although other breeds, such as retrievers, are also used.
So what makes a great military service dog? Training, training and more training. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas has been training sentry dogs since 1958.
Many lives have been saved by the super-human sense of smell and hearing these dogs bring to the front lines. But not all dogs can take the heat. Pups undergo a probation period of approximately one year to determine if they have the chops for service work. Once they pass basic training, they move up in the pack, assigned to work narcotics, patrol and counter-terrorism assignments in and outside of the U.S. The 50 percent who make it through training achieve an average 98% accuracy in detection skills, with an estimated worth of $150,000 per dog.
But these four-legged heroes are not immune to post-traumatic stress (PTS). Approximately 5% require specialized veterinary treatment before being cleared to return to duty. For those ready to retire, there are plenty of good homes waiting, with a one-year waitlist to adopt.
Save A Vet is one of several nonprofits that works to match a retired military service dog to a forever home. Potential owners are screened and if selected, trained to properly care for these veterans, who need very specific care and handling. Canines are also good medicine for service members struggling with PTS, so sometimes this match is a win-win for both veterans.