Dogs have been used in the military since ancient times, according to Tom Newton, historian and expert on military dogs. The breeds selected have varied, depending on availability and the nature of the work the dogs were to perform. For example, territorial dogs, such as boxers, have been used as sentry guards, shepherds have been used to protect and hunting dogs such as Labrador retrievers have been used for scent detection work.
German Shepherd Dogs
One very common breed that is frequently used for military work is the German shepherd dog. They are extremely well suited for a number of military purposes, such as guarding and protecting military assets and personnel. Their size and aggressiveness make them a formidable opponent against an enemy. German shepherds are also favored for their intensity, focus, work ethic and trainability.
Another breed commonly used by both the military and law enforcement is the Belgian malinois. The American Belgian Malinois Club notes the breed is slightly smaller than German shepherds. They have also been documented to have better speed and agility, which has resulted in their popularity for military and police employment.
Dutch shepherds, also slightly smaller than German shepherds, come in three different coat lengths, according to the Van Falconer Dog Training Facility -- short-haired, rough-haired and long-haired. This enables them to be utilized in a wider variety of climates. The Dutch shepherd breed retains many of its original working characteristics, such as independence and task focus, which have gained the breed a place in the U.S. military canine program, according to Tom Newton.
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Depending upon the type of work to be done, other dogs than shepherds have been recruited into service. Labrador retrievers have been used for detection work. Boxer dogs have also been used periodically in Germany and America by the military, often for sentry work. As new tasks are identified, Newton says the U.S. military continues to experiment with various dog breeds to determine which will be most capable of performing that specific job.