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A little known, but interesting chapter in Quartermaster History is the War Dog program. During World War II, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Club and a new group calling itself “Dogs for Defense” mobilized dog owners across the country to donate quality animals to the Quartermaster Corps. Dogs donated by a patriotic public to the Army saved the lives of a number of soldiers in combat.

Beginning on 13 March 1942, the Quartermaster Corps ran the Army’s so-called “K-9 Corps” and undertook to change these new recruits into good fighting “soldiers.” The readily-used phrase “K-9 Corps” became a popular title for the War Dog Program in the 1940s and 50s, and found wide informal usage both inside and outside the military. The term however is not official. Its origin lies in its phonetic association with the equally unofficial, alternative phrase “Canine Corps.”

At first more than thirty breeds were accepted. Later the list was narrowed down to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies and Giant Schnauzers. In all, a little over 19,000 dogs were procured between 1942 and 1945 (about 45% of these were rejected as unsuited for training). Initially the Quartermaster Corps placed the War Dog Program in its Plant Protection Branch of the Inspection Division, on the theory that dogs would be used chiefly with guards at civilian war plants.

The first estimates were that only about 200 dogs would be needed, but that soon changed. Dogs for Defense worked with qualified civilian trainers, who volunteered their services without pay, to train dogs for the program. Soon the demand for sentry dogs outstripped the original limited training program. As requirements increased reception and training responsibility was transferred to the Quartermaster Remount Branch, which had years of experience dealing with animals. Dogs for Defense continued its highly successful campaign to solicit donations of dogs. In the fall of 1942 the program expanded to procure and train dogs for the Navy and Coast Guard as well. Later these branches procured and trained their own dogs.


The first War Dog Reception and Training Center was established at Front Royal, Virginia in August 1942. During the war, five War Dog Reception and Training Centers were operated by the Quartermaster Corps. These were located at Front Royal, Virginia; Fort Robinson, Nebraska; Cat Island, Gulfport, Mississippi; Camp Rimini at Helena, Montana and San Carlos, California. Small temporary training centers were set up at Beltsville, Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia to train mine detection dogs (This task was later transferred to San Carlos). Initially the training program was experimental since dog reception and training was, with the exception of sled dogs, entirely new to the Army.

The Quartermaster Corps trained dog handlers, most of which were Quartermaster soldiers, as well as dogs and was responsible for developing all doctrine for training and use of War Dogs. It even developed a Technical Manual; TM 10-396, War Dogs, 1 July 1943.

Total training time for a dog was between 8-12 weeks. At the training centers, dogs began a rigid military routine. A “basic training” period was initiated where dogs were trained to carry out certain fundamental commands such as sit, stay, come, etc… They were also accustomed to muzzles, gas masks, riding in military vehicles and to gunfire. After completion of basic training each dog went through specialized training:

Sentry Dogs

Worked on a short leash and were taught to give warning by growling, alerting or barking. They were especially valuable for working in the dark when attack from cover or the rear was most likely. The sentry dog was taught to accompany a military or civilian guard on patrol and gave him warning of the approach or presence of strangers within the area protected.

Scout or Patrol Dogs

In addition to the skills listed for sentry dogs, scout/patrol dogs were trained to work in silence in order to aid in the detection of snipers, ambushes and other enemy forces in a particular locality.

Messenger Dogs

The most desired quality in these dogs was loyalty, since he must be motivated by the desire to work with two handlers. They learned to travel silently and take advantage of natural cover when moving between the two handlers. (A total of 151 messenger dogs were trained.)

Mine Dogs

Called the M-Dog or mine detection dog they were trained to find trip wires, booby traps, metallic and non-metallic mines. (About 140 dogs were trained. Only two units were activated. Both were sent to North Africa where the dogs had problems detecting mines under combat conditions.)

War Dog Use

Of the 10,425 dogs trained, around 9,300 were for sentry duty. Trained sentry dogs were issued to hundreds of military organizations such as coastal fortifications, harbor defenses, arsenals, ammunition dumps, airfields, depots and industrial plants. The largest group of sentry dogs (3,174) were trained in 1943 and issued to the Coast Guard for beach patrols guarding against enemy submarine activities.

By early 1944, when the US military went on the offensive in both the Pacific and European Theaters, the emphasis shifted to supplying dogs for combat. In March 1944, the War Department authorized the creation of Quartermaster War Dog Platoons and issued special TO&Es (tables of organization & equipment) for that purpose. Fifteen platoons were activated in World War II. Seven saw service in Europe and eight in the Pacific.

The scout dog and his Quartermaster handler normally walked point on combat patrols, well in front of the infantry patrol. Scout dogs could often detect the presence of the enemy at distances up to 1,000 yards, long before men became aware of them. When a scout dog alerted to the enemy it would stiffen its body, raise its hackles, pricking his ears and holding its tail rigid. The presence of the dogs with patrols greatly lessened the danger of ambush and tended to boost the morale of the soldiers.

Because of their success, demand for scout dogs in particular was growing during the closing days of the war and a total of 436 scout dogs saw service overseas. Eventually all dog training activities were centralized at Fort Robinson, Nebraska with the focus on tactical dogs and their handlers.

A prime example of the effectiveness of the dog was the caliber of performance in the Islands of the Pacific. Dense vegetation and continuous semidarkness of the Pacific Island jungles afforded opportunities for the enemy to infiltrate the American lines and conduct reconnaissance and ambushes. Scout dogs were instrumental in taking this advantage away from the enemy. In contrast, “dogless” patrols suffered casualties, usually as a result of ambush or surprise attacks.

In Europe conditions generally were less favorable to widespread use of dogs. This was due to the rapid movement of troops and the generally open terrain. Most dogs were utilized in sentry duties.

Recognition of War Dogs

A number of dogs trained by the Quartermaster Corps established outstanding records in combat overseas. At least one dog was awarded combat medals by an overseas command. These were later revoked since it was contrary to Army policy to present these decorations to animals. In January 1944, the War Department relaxed these restrictions and allowed publication of commendations in individual unit General Orders. Later approval was granted for issuance by the Quartermaster General of Citation Certificates to donors of war dogs that had been unusually helpful during the war. The first issued were in recognition of eight dogs that were members of the first experimental War Dog unit in the Pacific Theater.

Outstanding War Dogs

Probably the most famous War Dog was Chips. Chips was donated by Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York, was trained at Front Royal , Virginia in 1942, and was among the first dogs to be shipped overseas. He was assigned to the 3d Infantry Division and served with that unit in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. His assignments included sentry duty at the Roosevelt-Churchill conference in Casablanca in January 1943. Although trained as a sentry dog, Chips was reported on one occasion by members of Company I, 30th Infantry Regiment, to have broken away from his handler and attacked a pillbox containing an enemy machine gun crew in Sicily. He seized one man and forced the entire crew to surrender. He was also credited by the units to which he was assigned as having been directly responsible for capture of numerous enemy by alerting to their presence. In recognition of his service Chips was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, both were later revoked. In 1993 Disney produced a TV move about Chips called “Chips the War Dog”.

Dick, a scout dog donated by Edward Zan of New York City, was cited for working with a Marine Corps patrol in the Pacific Area. This dog not only discovered a camouflaged Japanese bivouac but unerringly alerted to the only occupied hut of five, permitting a surprise attack which resulted in annihilation of the enemy without a single Marine casualty. See QM War Dog Platoon is a Combat Unit for more on Dick.

Returning War Dogs to Civilian Life

At the end of the war the Quartermaster Corps put into operation a plan for return of war dogs to their civilian owners. Dogs were sent to a reprocessing section for the purpose of rehabilitation for civilian life. Dogs were trained that every human was friendly and tested for such things as reaction to people riding around them on bicycles or placed in an area with a great amount of noise. Before return, each dog was given a final check by a veterinary officer. Shipment of the dog to the owner was made at government expense. Those dogs which the original owner did not desire were sold to the public by the Treasury Department with the assistance of Dogs for Defense. By early 1947 the return of all borrowed dogs was completed.

Post World War II

After World War II, the Army found that use of the dogs for pack and sled service, mine detection and messengers was no longer needed. The sentry dogs and the silent scout dogs continued to be of great value. The end of 1946 saw the beginning of the Quartermaster Corps “Dog Training Branch” at the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) Quartermaster School in Lenggries, Germany.

In July 1948 dog training within the United States was transferred to the jurisdiction of Army Field Forces. That same year the “Dog Receiving and Processing Center” at Front Royal, Virginia was moved to Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1951 this responsibility was given to the Military Police Corps. In 1952 the Center was moved from Fort Riley to Fort Carson, Colorado. By then the only war dogs the Quartermaster Corps trained were in Germany, used for sentry duty. From 1956 to 1957 the Quartermaster Corps was called upon to procure dogs for the Air Force as sentry dogs to relieve manpower shortages in guarding airfields, materiel and equipment.


Dogs continued to serve the armed forces with distinction in other conflicts. In the Korean War the Army used about 1,500 dogs, primarily for sentry duty. During the Vietnam War about 4,000 dogs were employed. Of these 281 were officially killed in action. Most recently dogs were deployed to the Persian Gulf War. The oldest memorial to War Dogs in the United States is at the Hartsdale (New York) Pet Cemetery. This memorial was dedicated in 1922 to War Dogs used in World War I. In 1994 a War Dog memorial was dedicated at the U.S. Marine Corps War Dog Cemetery on Guam to honor the dogs that served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. An effort is currently underway to to petition the U.S. Postal Service for a stamp honoring military working dogs.

Compiled from the Archives of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum & Quartermaster Historian, Fort Lee, Virginia by K. M Born.

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