MIGHTY CULTURE
Ellen Ioanes

Here's why military working dogs are treated just like regular troops

(Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton / US Air National Guard)

Military working dogs are an essential part of many missions — even sensitive ones, like the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26, 2019. They're so important, in fact, that they occasionally hold ranks themselves, although it's merely formal and not official, and they're always ranked one higher than their handlers.

That "seniority" honors the dog's role and reminds the handler to be lenient when it has a bad day.

The dog who chased after Baghdadi, leading to his death by suicide, has become a celebrity — even though the dog's name remains classified. A photo of the dog led to confirmation of its breed (a Belgian Malinois), but little else is known about the good boy (or girl). Disclosing the dog's name and rank could lead to information about the dog's affiliation with Delta Force, a classified unit, The Washington Post reports. That unit is still in the field, and revealing the dog's name could put its handler at risk, although the dog's possible name and sex have been reported, by Newsweek and the Washington Post, respectively.

Read more to learn more about military working dogs.


The bond between a military working dog and its handler is vitally important to completing missions.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Chrisman, a combat tracking dog trainer, and Cpl. Ludjo, a military working dog, both with Third Law Enforcement Battalion, Third Marine Information Group, play tug of war at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, Oct. 16, 2019.

(Sgt. Stormy Mendez / US Marine Corps)

A handler needs to be able to read shifts and subtleties in their canine partner's behavior to gather information about their targets or environments, and even how the dog is feeling.

For example, if the dog doesn't feel like working, or has deficiencies with some tasks, the handler needs to be able to pick up on this and give the dog the tools, training, and motivation it needs to complete the task.

While the military working dog's rank is a formality — not an official rank like human troops have — it's meant to encourage handlers to treat their dogs with love and respect.

U.S. Marine Corps military working dog Allie waits inside a Humvee to go on a mission while being held by her handler, Lance Cpl. Ronnie Ramcharan at the Central Training Center, Okinawa, Japan on Aug. 25, 2019.

(Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Bray / US Marine Corps)

Handlers have to be able to communicate what their canine partners are "telling" them, and to know without a doubt that the dog will listen to him or her.

"There's no doubt about my dog: Number one, he will protect me. Number two, he will find a bomb," Sgt. 1st Class Regina Johnson told the Army in 2011.

Military working dogs whose units allow them to hold ranks are non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

Airman 1st Class Daniel Martinez, 355th Security Forces military working dog handler, participates in a simulated narcotic/bomb detection exercise with Darius, an MWD assigned to the 355 SFS, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2019.

(Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate / US Air Force)

By and large, military working dogs are treated as regular US troops would be.

Unfortunately, there was one period where military working dogs were left behind in a combat zone — in South Vietnam, during US troops' hasty withdrawal there.

Prior to 2000, military working dogs were also euthanized after their service was finished. Military working dogs can now be adopted to civilians once their service is finished.

Cairo the dog, also a Belgian Malinois, earned accolades from former President Barack Obama for his role in killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.

A U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico as part of exercise Emerald Warrior 2011 in this U.S. military handout image from March 1, 2011.

(Manuel J. Martinez/U.S. Air Force)

Cairo secured the perimeter of bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, and, should the al Qaeda leader have proven difficult to find, Cairo would be sent in after him.

Upon hearing that Cairo was involved in the raid, former President Barack Obama said, "I want to meet that dog," according to an account in The New Yorker.

"If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats," one member of the SEAL team jokingly advised the president.

Military working dogs and their partners both require extensive training to keep up with the demands of their job.

(Department of Defense)

Dogs and their trainers go through a 93-day training program to cement their skills and gain practice as a team in real-world scenarios, according to the Army.

Only about 50% of the dogs the military procures to become military working dogs are actually suitable for the job.

Military working dogs fulfill several important roles in operations, like sniffing out explosives.

Cpl. Ramon Valenci, a dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, orders his military working dog, Red, to search for improvised explosive devices during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-17, aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017.

(Aaron S. Patterson / US Marine Corps)

Or detecting narcotics.

100th Military Police Detachment, Military Working Dog (MWD) Money, conducts basic obedience drills, June 25, 2019, Panzer Kaserne, Germany. The MWDs and their handlers are trained to provide narcotics and explosives detection keeping the bases safe from threats.

(Photo by Yvonne Najera)

Locating the wounded.

Callie, a search and rescue dog for the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, rides in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as part of her familiarization training at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 29, 2018.

(Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton / US Air National Guard)

And as sentinels who can patrol and protect during a mission.

Timo, 23d Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Military Working Dog (MWD), bites Joe Dukes, Lowndes County Sheriffs Office SWAT team lead, during a MWD capabilities demonstration, March 21, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Timo is trained to attack on or off leash with or without command.

(Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson / US Air Force)

They're more than man's best friend. Military working dogs are an essential part of the mission.

(Kevin Hanrahan)

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.