Although more than a million dogs served during World War I, military dogs were not an official part of the U.S. military until 13 March 1942. That’s when the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army began training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, aka the K-9 Corps.
Initially, the K-9 Corps accepted 32 breeds. By 1944, there were only seven eligible: Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimo dogs, Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, farm collies, German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies.
Donors were given a certificate by the government as a means of thanks for their “patriotic duty.” Dogs were immediately sent into training, where some excelled and others didn’t. Wash-outs were returned to their owners; those who passed were eventually sent into battle from foxholes to beach fronts, where they were utilized for messenger, mine-detection, sentry and scout duties…
One of the WWII famed fur warriors was Chips, a German Shepherd/Alaskan Husky/Collie mix that was a donated New York family dog who is credited with saving the lives of many U.S. soldiers and earning a Purple Heart and Silver Star.
The Quartermaster Corps also trained the dog handlers.
After World War II, the Military Police Corps took over responsibility for training military dogs. They have continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts. It is estimated that the Army employed 1,500 dogs during the Korean War and 4,000 in the Vietnam War. Currently, the Army has 578 dog teams which have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The courage and loyalty of these dogs have continued to save lives and prevent injuries since creation of the K-9 Corps.
K-9 Corps duties were varied: messenger dogs, mine dogs, sentry dogs and scout or patrol dogs. Additional roles were added: attack dogs and casualty dogs that helped the the Red Cross search for wounded battlefields.
In 1944, the War Department authorized seven Quartermaster War Dog Platoons serving in Europe and eight in the Pacific. A platoon consisted of 20 enlisted men, 18 scout dogs and six messenger dogs.
By 1945 the Quartermaster Corps had trained 10,425 dogs, including 9,295 for sentry duty, issued to the Army, Navy (Marines) and the Coast Guard. Fewer than 1,900 of those animals were shipped abroad, and by the end of the war only 436 had actually served overseas.
The most famous dog to emerge from [WWI] was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River. As the first bona fide animal movie star, Rin Tin Tin made the little-known German Shepherd breed famous across the country.