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Labrador Retrievers Drafted as Military Working Dogs

Labrador retrievers are not only great family pets but are also well-loved as service dogs and military dogs. One of the admirable feats that Labs have accomplished is being in the forefront of many wars. Labradors that work with the armed forces are officially called “military working dogs” and were mainly counted in as members of Combat Tracker Teams (CTTs).

During the Vietnam War, there were almost 4,000 war dogs which served the US military forces. Aside from Labrador retrievers, the military also employed German Shepherds as scout dogs and mine-detection dogs, and waterdogs to detect enemy underwater divers. The Labrador retriever was the military’s top pick for their Combat Tracker Teams. Their exceptional olfactory sense helped them track down missing, downed and wounded allied servicemen and detect enemy patrols. The Labs which were used in CTT program underwent combat training at the British Army’s Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia.

It was also in the Vietnam War when these military working dogs were classified as “expendable equipment” and were not allowed to return home with the American forces. As a result, only a handful made it back to the US. Many were left behind to be euthanized as the inexperienced South Vietnamese handlers didn’t know how to handle them. Many US servicemen who were canine handlers and trainers were traumatized and became depressed when they were forced to leave their buddies behind.

This indifference had caused outcries and overwhelming protests from military dog handlers and trainers including the general public.

For many battles that these canine soldiers worked beside soldiers, it is only recently that the United States military formally acknowledged the valuable service of these intelligent canines. It was President Bill Clinton who signed, in November 2000, an amendment that allowed retired war dogs of the US military to return home and be adopted outside of the military. The Labrador retrievers that served in the military overseas have now claimed their rightful place in the annals of US military history. They have now earned the recognition and respect which have long been denied them. They can now live their twilight years happily in a loving home.

Today, Labrador Retrievers also serve another role in the military. The so-called K-9 therapists work under the Combat Stress Control Unit in Iraq. These Labs are employed to prevent and control stress levels of soldiers who inhabit combat zones. It has been demonstrated that regular interaction with these dogs paved an avenue for relief of stress.

The military has recognized these special abilities of dogs to improve the feelings of well-being of soldiers who are on active duty. These Labrador retrievers also provide a sense of family and friend to soldiers who are away from everything that is familiar and secure. This program encourages soldiers to spend a few minutes and mingle with these K-9 therapists and many have claimed that they feel more relaxed and their morale were lifted after spending even a few minutes with a Lab.

Labrador retrievers which serve as military dogs have saved the lives of thousands of soldiers. Many nameless Labs gave credit to their calling when they were able to detecting home-made bombs and other explosive devices. Among the remembered Labrador war heroes included Luke, a black Labrador and SSD Cooper, a yellow lab of the 94th Mine Dog Detachment, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Today, more Labrador retrievers are needed by the military. They work side by side with their canine handlers in ensuring that the troops are protected from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These labs also undergo rigorous selection and training. Only those which achieve certification as bomb sniffers will receive training from Marine units and ultimately deployed overseas. The intelligence of the Labrador retriever has made it one of the best finds of the military. They can easily be trained to sniff out explosive devices and track down friend and foe alike. Time and again the Labrador proved that the military’s sophisticated equipment is not a match to their exceptional sense of smell.

In an effort to recognize the significance of the military dogs, many organizations have given them honor and recognition and one of these took place on April 16, 2011 with a ceremony and a life-sized granite sculpture at the dog park of Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, California. These honoring ceremonies were an effort to give honor to the canine’s loyalty and dedication and encourage their adoption after they have retired from the military.