Blast From the Past: Dogs for Defense


During World War II, people all over the country participated in some sort of war effort. If they weren’t actually overseas fighting for our country, they may have been working in factories producing ships, growing vegetables to feed people, or collecting scrap metal.

But did you know that dogs volunteered too? After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the American Kennel Club and “Dogs for Defense” began to advertise for dog owners around the country to donate their pets to serve in the war effort.

the us war dogs association
Dogs for Defense, Inc.

In the beginning of this program, more than 30 breeds were accepted but then this narrowed to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies and Giant Schnauzers. They were all part of the “K-9 Corps.”

Training for this elite group of animals was extensive. In addition to basic commands, these dogs needed to get used to muzzles, gas masks, military vehicles and gunfire. More than 10,000 dogs were trained during these years, all donated by families that wanted to contribute to winning the War.

Most dogs became sentry dogs. This job involved warning soldiers on patrol when danger approached. They worked with the Coast Guard patrolling beaches to protect against enemy submarines. They also worked with hundreds of other military units defending the units.

Coast Guard dog
U. S. Coast Guard

Scout or patrol dogs worked with soldiers to detect snipers or ambushes. It was really important for these dogs to alert their handlers with soundless growls so no one else could hear them.

About 150 dogs were trained as messengers. They needed to be comfortable working with two different trainers since they would travel silently between them to transfer important information.

Mine dogs, or M-dogs, were specially trained to detect trip wires, booby traps and mines. These dogs were sent to North Africa to work.

The dogs that were sent to the Pacific front were very effective because the jungles there made it difficult to protect against surprise attacks. Having sentry dogs greatly reduced this risk. Overall, the dogs that served on active war duty boosted the morale of the soldiers and reduced their stress levels during patrols.

fritzi dangberg
Here is Fritzi Dangberg in Nevada (1907-1946). She’s holding the German Shepherd puppies she contributed to the Dogs for Defense program in World War II. The photo is ca. 1942.

Don’t miss the WWII & NYC exhibit at the New-York Historical Society which closes May 27…you can learn a lot more about what we were doing here on the homefront during the War. After the War was over, the dogs were re-trained that every human was friendly and returned to their civilian homes. Today, all the dogs that work in the military are professional dogs and not “borrowed” from family homes, but the dogs that served during WWII taught us that their value is unique and important.


K. M. Born, U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation, http://www.qmfound.com/K-9, May 16, 2013.


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