MWDs: Their impact


This is the result of a study I did last Veteran’s Day in an effort to help educate the public about our furry fearless partners, those awesome Military Working Dogs. The following information was provided by the Vietnam Dog Handler Association, (, and the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, ( FYI: I was a Patrol Dog Handler.


Estimated: a total of 304 K-9 handlers (all branches of service) were killed/MIA in Vietnam.

There is a confirmed list of 3,747 dogs that were used in Vietnam identified by Dr. Howard Hayes, Veterinarian (RET) of the National Institute of Health as of March 1994, by “brand number” (a tattoo usually placed in the left ear of the dog). However, it is estimated that approximately 4,900 dogs where used during the course of the war between 1964 and 1975. Records of the dogs in Vietnam where not maintained by the military prior to 1968, thus the discrepancy.

How Many Dogs Returned Home?

Only 204 dogs exited Vietnam during the 10-year period. Some remained in the Pacific, and some returned to the United States. None returned to civilian life. So what happened to the dogs that remained? Most were euthanized and the others were turned over to the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army).

How Many Handlers Served in Vietnam and what Branch of Service?
All four branches of the military used dogs in Vietnam. Approximately 10,000 handlers served. Vietnam was the largest concentrated effort of the use of dogs and handlers in any Combat Era the United States has ever undertaken.

It is estimated that the dogs and handlers saved over 10,000 lives.

The following is a breakdown of handlers by Military Branch that served in Vietnam. 65%Army 26%Air Force 7%Marine 2%Navy.

What Mission (duties) did the Dogs and Handlers Have in Vietnam?

Scout Dogs

A Scout Dog Team consisted of one German Shepherd and the handler. When requested, the Scout Dog Team joined an infantry unit and served as their “eyes and ears”. The Scout Dog Team walked “point” (out front) for the unit, looking for booby trap trip wires, ambushes, hidden caches of food or weapons, snipers etc. When the dog alerted, the handler passed the information to the patrol leader who then moved his troops forward. Scout dogs and handlers where trained at Ft. Benning, Ga. Some Scout Dog handlers were trained “In-Country” (OJT) or were originally trained as Tracker handlers.)

Combat Tracker Teams (CTT:

The Tracker Team consisted of a Labrador Retriever (Sometimes Shepherds) and andler, a cover man, a Visual Tracker and a Team Leader. Trackers were called to duty when the unit wished to re-establish contact with the enemy. Tracker teams acted much like the old Indian Scouts (except for the use of the dogs). They were called upon to “track” either visually or by using a Labrador Retriever to follow ground (blood trails, body odor etc.) or airborne scent in order to locate missing personnel, i.e., downed pilots, wounded GI’s, or the enemy. The Majority of Combat Trackers and Tracker Dogs were trained in Malaysia at the British Jungle Warfare School (JWS) or at Ft. Gordon, Ga. in the U.S.

Sentry Dog Teams:

Sentry Dog Teams were universal within every branch of the U.S.
Armed Forces in Vietnam to include the Air Force in Thailand; and were normally an arm of Military Police Units (All Branches had police units-they just call them different names). Sentry Dog Teams, “walked the wire” on the outskirts of a location and their primary form of communication was via radio after the dog alerted. Back up to the team was a tower or bunker guard, a quick response team, or getting illumination (flares). Sentry Dog Teams (K9] were comprised of one German Shepherd and one handler and generally worked at night (about 99%). Their mission was to “Detect, Detain, and Destroy. Sentry Dog Teams were the first line of defense on the perimeter of not only Bases in Vietnam but also ammo depots, supply areas, communications areas, > naval installations, camps, flight lines, and other sensitive areas. The majority of Sentry Dog handlers and Sentry Dogs were trained at Lackland Air Force Base, TX. [All branches), however, some were trained in Showa (Tachikawa), Japan, and many handlers were trained “In-Country- (OJT)

Patrol Dog Teams:

Patrol Dog Teams were a step further in the security field in the US Army. Towards the end of our combat involvement in the RVN (early ’72 through August ‘72) Scouts and Mine and Tunnel teams stood down and most of the handlers went home.  Sadly the vast majority of these now “excess” K9s were euthanized but some lucky few were retrained to be Patrol Dogs granting them a reprieve from Doggie Heaven.  Some few others were sent to other units, and even to other allies but almost none went home to the USA. The Patrol Dog was a Sentry who retained the silent early warning qualities of their Scout or M&T training while learning to bite and hold with enough aggression to be a good Sentry too. The handlers were made up of some few veterans who were “short” timers and would be going home themselves soon, and any newbie handlers just coming in country.  Since there were no billets for Scout or M&T handlers after January of ’72 you either retrained as a CTT or a Patrol Dog Handler in country at the USARV Dog Training Detachment on Bien Hoa or you joined a leg unit for your tour of duty. Patrol Dog Teams were used as another layer of defense in and around US Base Camps and Fire Bases. They were instrumental in deterring the destructive efforts of enemy sappers and the isolated rocket/mortar attack on these same facilities across the country.  They worked in unison with another team or alone and often outside of the main defensive infrastructure…outside the wire.  They carried a radio and communicated any alerts to HQ, guiding follow on forces to the contact and avoiding contact themselves unless there was no other option.  K9 and handler were both still soldiers who could and would fight as well as any other.

Mine/Booby/Tunnel Dog Teams:

The Team was one German Shepherd and a handler in support of infantry and combat engineer operations (Army and Marines). The mission was to detect mines, booby-traps, trip wires, tunnel complexes and any other casualty producing devices. They also assisted in searching villages or suspected areas of enemy built up supplies, weapons and ammunition.


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