Defense Media Network

Parachuting Dogs

The American military started putting pooches under parachutes during World War II

We all know that Man’s Best Friend has a history of military service, but many Americans may not recall that the U.S. Army used parachuting dogs in World War II.

Dogs are more familiar as sentries, guards, or as beasts of burden in Alaska, where sled dogs functioned when horses, mules, and motorized vehicles couldn’t. It was only a matter of time before the sled would be combined with the parachute for rescue duties.

War Dog Reception and Training Center

Dogs and handlers take a break at the War Dog Reception and Training Center, Front Royal, Va. National Archives photo

Our four-legged friends found an official place in July 1942 when the Army began procuring and training military working dogs, leading to the “War Dog” program in 1943. Soon known popularly as the “K-9 Corps” (an unofficial term derived from the word canine), the Army’s dog training program met with eager support from the civilian world. The American Kennel Club and a group called “Dogs for Defense” mobilized dog owners across the country to donate quality animals for the war effort.

After the first War Dog Reception and Training Center was established at Front Royal, Va., in August 1942, the Army Quartermaster Corps was soon training thousands of dogs for sentry duty at industrial plants in the United States, and for patrol work with the Army Air Forces (AAF), Navy, and Coast Guard. The AAF wanted dogs to guard airfields; the Navy and Coast Guard wanted them for sentry work at naval yards, naval air stations, and ammunition depots.

The preliminary list of acceptable breeds included:

  • Airedale Terriers
  • Belgian Sheep dogs
  • Bouviers de Flandre
  • Boxers
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • Flat Coated Retrievers
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Curly Coated Retrievers
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffons
  • Boxers
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Giant Schnauzers
  • Irish Water Spaniels
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Collies
  • Rottweilers
  • Standard Poodles
  • Briards
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Dalmatians
  • German Shepherds

Through trial and error, the Quartermaster Corps determined that seven breeds were best suited for military work:

  • Collies;
  • German Shepherds;
  • Belgian Sheep Dogs;
  • Doberman Pinschers;
  • Eskimo sled dogs;
  • Alaskan Malamutes; and
  • Siberian Huskies.

No effort was made to enforce any requirement for purebred canines; mixes of these breeds were deemed acceptable.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...