When we think of war heroes, what comes to mind is the vigilant soldier, coastie, airman, sailor, or Marine, dutifully keeping his/her post, always on guard. What we don’t realize is our four-legged friends – the ones we bring into war with us – can also be war heroes. In the new HBO documentary War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend, the voices of our canine warriors and their close relationship with their handlers is brought to the forefront.
It quickly becomes clear these dogs are not just dogs — they are trusted companions, soldiers, friends, and family to their human counterparts. The separation between animal and man is completely shattered because both souls face the same hardship, the same war. They also share the effects of those wars and the aftermath of traumatic situations.
Highlighted in the documentary are stories of three canine heroes — Layka, Mika, and Pepper — along with an intimate look into the lives of their handlers, who battle to be reunited with their canine partners after they come home from war.
Among the three stories is that of Army Ranger John Dixon and his canine partner Mika. We see the struggle that both of them experience when Dixon gets wounded in battle and then gets permanently separated from Mika. The heartbreak is real when Mika won’t even go back to work, due to the separation and traumatic events that occurred while her partner was injured.
It’s hard to watch, especially when such trauma, sadness, and real life stories are being conveyed. But these stories need to be told — not only for our human heroes but for our canine heroes who cannot speak for themselves. War Dog reveals the cost of war from a different angle while allowing an unfiltered look into the lives of our military personnel, both human and animal.
War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend is directed and produced by Deborah Scranton and executive produced by Channing Tatum. You can catch it on HBO, or HBO apps HBOGo and HBONow.