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Military Dogs in Iraq: It's no Walk in the Park

By: Rebecca O'Connor

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There is a very different kind of soldier working in Iraq. Although they walk on four legs and their main tool is their nose, they are an important part of the team. Specialized service dogs keep our troops out of harms way. Like all working dogs, they love their work, but working in a war zone isn't exactly a walk in the park.

Tough Job

Specialized service dogs are trained specially for military operations. They work to find firearms, ammunition and explosives during various missions. The dogs also point out people in hiding. These dogs have the ability to use their nose to find danger so their human counterparts can eradicate it before anyone gets injured or killed. There isn't a lot of room for mistakes in a job like this, but the dogs rarely make them.

These dogs are very well trained. They work reliably on and off leash and have intense concentration. A specialized service dog isn't agitated under steady gunfire and doesn't get distracted by wildlife or any other doggy temptations. They seem to take their job of protecting their handlers and others very seriously. They aren't meant to replace soldiers, but rather to perform duties that a human simply wouldn't be good at.

Teams spend 22 weeks training together before they are introduced to working in the theater. Then they spend another month acclimating. The dogs and their handlers are inseparable. They must be certified before they go to work in the theater and must continue to be recertified annual.

Ron Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association, estimates that there are more that 100 dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has actually been using war dogs since World War I. Although the dogs are well treated and certainly adored by their handlers, there are still long hours, the intense heat to manage and a lack of normal dog activities.

Care Packages for Dogs

The War Dogs Association, a nonprofit group made up mainly of former and current military dog handlers has been gathering items to help these working canines, sending about 250 care packages with items such as sunscreens, toys and jerky. Surely the dogs appreciate these packages and their human counterparts as well. The dogs mean the world to the service men that work with them. They expect a lot from their dogs, but also worry constantly over their needs and health.

Hearing about the need for a little extra love being sent out to our war dogs, Dogtopia® in Vienna, Va. began a campaign to create awareness and generate support for military dogs and their handlers stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas. www.dogdaycare.com/k9support.php

Their first fundraiser, a dog wash made the national news and also made $9,000. Since then Dogtopia® has raised over $20,000 and shipped over 5,000 lbs of supplies. Packages include goodies for both humans and canine alike, but also essential equipment, such as cooling pads, protective eye wear and heat resistant clothing.

So when you're thinking good thoughts for our soldiers or considering sending some goodies their way, don't forget the dogs. Specialized service dogs are helping to keep our soldiers safer.


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