By Maryle Malloy for New Mexican Kennels

This article is Part 1 of a 2 part series on Canine Dogs serving in the armed services. In Part 1, we cover the years immediately following WW II with the Post World War II Dog Program up through the Vietnam War. Part 2 scheduled for publication on Veterans Day, November 11, 2019, describes the current training and use of Military Dogs by both the US Military and the CIA.  



The demilitarization of the armed forces following World War II was both sweeping and deep. This became real apparent as the various dog programs in the different services disappeared and the scout dog platoons were deactivated.

The War Department had intended that scout dog platoons be continued in the postwar years.

Even during a conference held at Fort Benning in June 1946, the army’s Committee on Organization met to debate the situation. Chairman, Brig. General F. McCade discussed the contributions dogs had made during the war and the General recommended that the Infantry War Dog Platoons be retained and be attached to infantry units for training and operations.

New Dog Purchase Policy

McCade even went further, personally recommending that the army’s “experimentation be continued with scout dog units, especially breeding, improved training methods and extending the practical use of the dogs within the military establishment.”

Unfortunately, as is often the case, implementing a plan in the military can be much harder than just suggesting it. There was a general lack of interest because the war was finally over and the fiscal cuts and manpower reductions snuffed whatever attention the US Army once had for the dogs.

In 1946, the Quartermaster Corps discontinued the World War II method of acquiring dogs on loan from patriotic citizens, it had proved to be impractical and uneconomical, due to the large percentage of animals, that had to be returned when they were found unsuitable; it was decided, that dogs would be purchased, thereby becoming the sole property of the Federal Government, as had been the practice with other type animals (horses and mules) for many years.

1948 – Who’s in charge?

With the discontinuance of the Quartermaster Remount Depot System in July 1948, dog training within the United States was transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the US Army Field Forces, and also the 26th Scout Dog Platoon; and the one remaining dog training center, located at Front Royal, Virginia, was relocated to Fort Riley, Kansas.

However, the Quartermaster Corps retained the mission of dog procurement. From that time until the Korean War emergency developed, very little was accomplished relative to dog training except in Europe where since the early days of our occupation many dogs had been used for guarding supply points, aircraft and for other types of security.

Army’s School for Dogs, Darmstadt, Germany, 1950

Responsibility for training in Europe was by direction of the US Commanding General, European Forces, continued under the jurisdiction of the Quartermaster Corps, at their Dog Training School, located at Darmstadt, West Germany, where Military Policemen, from both the Army and Air Force occupation units, were trained for sentry dog duty.


On July 11, 1951, at the outset of hostilities in Korea, a new Army War Dog Receiving & Holding Station was activated at Cameron Station, located at Alexandria, Virginia, where the newly purchased war dogs were processed and conditioned before they were shipped to the Army Dog Training Center, Fort Carson, Colorado. This station was placed on a standby status on May 4, 1954, after the fighting had ended.

On December 7, 1951, the responsibility of dog training in the United States (CONUS) was again transferred, this time to the Military Police Corps, and early in 1952 the dog training center, along with the 26th Scout Dog Platoon was moved from Fort Riley, Kansas to Camp Carson, Colorado, later designated as Fort Carson. Fort Carson could train approximately 86 sentry dog handlers and 380 dogs during any training cycle, now set at eight weeks. Major emphasis was now placed on training sentry dogs, which were considered a more valuable commodity for every branch of the armed services.


Because of difficulties experienced in fully coordinating the dog program, procurement, processing, conditioning, training and issue of war dogs a staff study pertaining to the possible return of responsibility for war dog training to the QMC was submitted to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, on August 28, 1953.

The study included a recommendation that all dog training be returned to the QMC, and that a new War Dog Reception & Training Center be activated as a Class II installation at Fort Lee, Virginia; and the subsequent phase-out of the dog training center at Fort Carson, Colorado.

These ideas were rejected in May 1954 but a new directive once again changed the responsibility of dog training. It stated that, “The Dog Training Center will remain a Class I Activity at Fort Carson, and that the Army Field Forces would retain and discharge the responsibility for supervision of the Army’s war dog training.

The Korean War – June 1950 – July 1953

When the Korean war broke out, only one active-duty scout dog platoon, the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon, located at Fort Riley could be found in the entire US Army. The 26th primary mission was touring the United States conducting dog demonstrations, television appearances, and training with infantry units during field maneuvers. Photo is shown below- 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon.     

26th Scout Dog Platoon Korea

In May 1951, orders alerted the entire 26th Scout Dog Platoon to embark for Korea, but only a single squad, consisting of seven handlers and six dogs was ready to ship out. After arriving in Korea in June ’51, it was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. 

The balance of the platoon, thirteen enlisted men, twenty scout dogs, and one officer joined the original squad in Korea, ten months later, in February of 1952.

The 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon saw almost continuous service and opened the eyes of many regimental commanders to the potential value of dogs attached to night patrols. One regimental commander remarked that after using a dog for a while, patrols did not want to go out without them. This one dog platoon was not capable of spreading itself thin enough to full fill the demand placed upon it.

On February 27, 1953, the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon was cited in General Orders, Department of the Army, No. 21, as follows:

“The 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon is cited for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in direct support of combat operations in Korea during the period 12 June 1951 to 15 January 1953.

The 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon, during its service in Korea, has participated in hundreds of combat patrol actions by supporting the patrols with the services of an expert scout dog handler and his highly trained scout dog.

The members of the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon while participating in these patrols were invariably located at the most vulnerable points in the patrol formation in order that the special aptitudes of the trained dog could be most advantageously used to give warning of the presence of the enemy,

The unbroken record of faithful and gallant performance of these missions by the individual handlers and their dogs in support of patrols has saved countless casualties through giving early warning to the friendly patrol of threats to its security.

The full value of the services rendered by the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon is nowhere better understood and more highly recognized than among the members of the patrols with whom the scout dog handlers and their dogs have operated,
When not committed to action, the soldiers of the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon have given unfailing efforts to further developing their personal skills as well as that of their dogs in order to better perform the rigorous duties which are required of them while on patrol.

Throughout its long period of difficult and hazardous service, the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon has never failed those with whom it served; has consistently shown outstanding devotion to duty in the performance of all of its other duties, and has won on the battlefield a degree of respect and admiration which has established it as a unit of the greatest importance to the Eighth United States Army.

The outstanding performance of duty proficiency and esprit de corps invariably exhibited by the personnel of this platoon reflect the greatest credit on themselves and the military service of the United States.”

(General Orders 114, Headquarters, Eighth United States Army, Korea, 18 January 1953).

As a result of the outstanding service rendered by the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon, recommendation was made and approved for the activation of five scout dog platoons, to be attached to each Division in Korea, but the war reached the “peace talks” stage before the 5 additional platoons were trained and ready to be shipped to Korea.

Outstanding War Dog – York, O-11X

Scout dog York was decorated for outstanding service while serving with the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon in Korea. He was given a Distinguished Service Award by General Samuel T. Williams for performing 148 combat patrols between June 12, 1951, and June 26, 1953.

On May 8, 1957, York received orders to return to the Army Dog Training Center, at Fort Carson, Colorado to be used as a member of a demonstration team. It was felt that York would help improve public relations by arousing more interest in the recruitment and procurement of dogs for military purposes.

When the Army Dog Training Center, located at Fort Carson was deactivated on July 1, 1957, York was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, and attached back to his original platoon, the 26th ISDP.


By Richard Cunningham

Excerpted from the New York Times article published October 3, 2017

Military Dog Memorial, University of Tennessee

“I would wager that 90 percent of American combat troops killed in action during the Vietnam War never saw their killers.”

“Whether it was a sniper at 200 yards, a rocket fired into a base camp or an attack from a well-concealed bunker complex, the element of surprise was usually on the side of our enemies. But our forces did have one elite weapon that sometimes took the advantage away. At times, these weapons even turned such situations upside down and enabled us to surprise and take them out.

That elite weapon was our military working dog, and we had thousands of them.

In Vietnam, American forces used dogs for everything from base security to detecting ambushes to hunting down fleeing enemy units. We used German shepherds like Smokey, mixes of shepherd types and Labrador retrievers that were well trained in detecting, attacking and tracking the enemy. They were certainly not all purebreds. Most were given to the military by families back home.

The dogs started out at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas with a thorough physical exam. Then they were observed and tested to determine which area of training they would be assigned. Aggressive dogs usually went to the sentry unit. Less aggressive but still highly intelligent shepherd dogs went to the scout school. The Labradors, with their amazing noses, went straight to tracker training. Every dog accepted was highly intelligent, and each became a canine soldier, with his or her own individual four-digit service number tattooed in the left ear.

Dogs and their handlers went through three phases of instruction: drill/obedience, aggression, and scouting. And although it appeared that the dogs were being instructed, it was the soldiers who were actually being taught. At Okinawa, where I met and trained with Smokey, most of the dogs were veterans being reassigned to new handlers. They knew the drills inside and out, and we did not. Our training instructors seemed to take a perverse pleasure in informing us how dumb we were compared with the dogs.

Every dog responded to both verbal and nonverbal hand commands. They loved to work purely for the approval and praise of their handler and partner. And throughout training that special bond was formed between trooper and dog.”


According to US War Dog.Org iii 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.


October 28, 2013, 2013, the U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument was dedicated at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. JBSA-Lackland is the home to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program and is where the U.S. Armed Forces have been training its military working dog teams since 1958. It is the world’s largest training center for military dogs and handlers and is also home to the largest veterinary hospital for military working dogs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Faske) (released)




ii Richard Cunningham – NY Times, October 3, 2017.

“I was a sentry dog handler in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, a member of the 212th Military Police Sentry Dog Company stationed in Tay Ninh. My companion was a German shepherd named Smokey. I was 20 years old and weighed 135 pounds; Smokey weighed 90 pounds. Our unit’s responsibility was to protect the Tay Ninh Base Camp, and especially the ammunition dump. Smokey and I typically worked at night, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., but we would also conduct daylight area sweeps when temporarily attached to infantry units.

Richard Cunningham served as a sentry dog handler in Vietnam and later worked with the New York Police Department and as a fraud investigator