Heroes Come in All Forms

We’d like to take the time to honor working dogs and bring to light the incredible impact that they can have. We had the honor of hosting our May Pack Walk at the Michigan War Dog Memorial in South Lyon, Michigan. While K9 Veterans Day is celebrated on March 13th, we were honored and humbled to learn of the history of the war dogs and working dogs. The memorial highlights the many attributes of working dog’s dedication and the lives they’ve saved in their service. Many dogs loyalty, dedication, and sacrifice have helped saved the lives of their handlers.

As time has progressed so have the jobs that dogs are capable of doing, including Military working dogs, Police Dogs, Search and Rescue dogs, Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs. We wanted to shed light on the incredible skills of the working dog, and the various types that there are.

Military Working Dogs

Dogs serving in war time has been a long standing tradition. The US military has utilized working dogs since the civil war. They originally worked primarily as messengers and sentries. As warfare has evolved so have the jobs of working dogs. In World War I,  dogs would be fitted with communication equipment to help lay cable for communication networks, and ambulance dogs were used to find wounded soldiers in no man’s land after an attack.

In later wars, their jobs evolved to include scent work to find people and explosives. Military Working Dogs (MWD) were especially important as different styles of fighting progressed. In Vietnam dogs were able to help locate Viet Cong guerrilla fighters through their scent work. Of the 4,000 dogs that served in-country, less than 200 made it back to the States. This was because of the quick exit that the US forces had from Vietnam, the military classified the dogs as equipment and left them behind. It has been estimated that the military working dogs helped to save 10,000 lives due to their work in Vietnam. 

MWD have been utilized in Afghanistan and Iran. “It’s estimated that without the use of explosive detection dogs, the military only locates about half of the IEDs planted in Afghanistan and Iran. With dogs, the detection rate increases to 80 percent” (Ganzert, 2018). While the death rate of these military heroes is not nearly as high as it once was, so many lives have been saved by these four legged heroes. There are currently 2,800 teams deployed to help protect our service members.

Police Dogs

Some retired military working dogs work for law enforcement when they come stateside. Other organizations work to train new dogs for Narcotics, Explosives Detection, tracking fugitives, suspect apprehension or finding missing persons. K-9 Officers are considered full fledged police officers. Assault, injury or the death of a K-9 officer is the same punishment under the law as those committed against a human officers. The use of ballistic vests can help save these working dogs lives as they are the front line of defense.

Search and Rescue Dogs

One of the more memorable uses of Search and Rescue dogs (SAR) was during 9/11. They can be dual purposed Law Enforcement dogs or National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. These working dogs are disaster response dogs. It’s estimated that 300 dogs took part in the search, rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. However, only about 100 of those teams were prepared for the scale of the search.  Search and rescue dogs are trained to find living victims and the remains of deceased humans. They’re unique in their ability to cover a wide variety of terrain and their sense of smell can help cover large areas in a short period of time, helping to save lives when looking for victims.

In 2016 the last surviving SAR dog of 9/11, Bretagne and her handler, Corliss, also deployed for hurricanes Katrina, Rita and other storms rescue efforts. Prior to the events of 9/11 there was little knowledge and awareness of SAR dogs and therapy dogs.

The Difference Between Service Dogs,

Therapy Dogs & Emotional Support Animals

Service dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional support animals can all be owned by civilians. However the requirements for handling them is different. Contrary to popular belief the terms are not interchangeable and there are different requirements for each type of working dog. Service dogs and working dogs are task trained to help their handler accomplish a goal.

Therapy Dogs

While many teams that deployed to 9/11 were unsuccessful in finding survivors, they were known as a shining light in the darkness. The comfort of having the working dogs on site after long days helped boost morale. After 9/11 the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) required additional preparation for human handlers and special certification for dogs participating in disaster relief.  TDI teams have been dispatched to a variety of types of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, mass shootings, and other acts of terrorism.

Therapy dogs training has stricter certification requirements. While many dogs may provide emotional comfort, the temperament and rules for a TDI-registered therapy dog is strict. If you are interested in learning more visit therapy dogs international . Therapy dogs provide emotional support to many people and are trained to visit schools, hospice, and other institutions for comfort.

Service Dogs

Service dogs are dogs specifically trained to assist a handler with disabilities. There is a wide range of tasks that they can be trained to perform in order to mitigate disabilities. They only work with one individual and their sole purpose is not to provide emotional comfort. Not every dog is suitable temperament to be a service dog. Due to the vast array of jobs a service dog can do they can be organization trained, team trained or owner trained, because not all organizations are familiar with specific individual needs.

Service dogs we most well known for seeing eye dogs, but there are so many more jobs they can do for a handler. They can utilized for mobility tasks and item retrieval. Medical alert or response dogs can be used for epilepsy, diabetes, seizures, syncope, migraines, autism, PTSD and many more. Service dogs should be temperament tested, pass the Canine Good Citizenship Testing, able to be temperamentally sound in many environments. They should be on the floor, well behaved walking nicely on leash, not begging or eating food from the floor. They should not bark, not relieve themselves inside of public spaces, or be disruptive in other ways. If they are the facility reserves the right to ask the handler and dog to leave and re-enter without the dog.

Service Dog Laws

Service dog laws are often abused due to lack of knowledge of the laws. Due to the nature of the dogs jobs, service dogs are legally considered medical equipment. Often providing life saving alerts faster than, or even some alerts not gained from, other technologies. Service dogs must be for a disabled handler and are allowed wherever other medical devices such as a wheelchair or oxygen tank are permitted.

More and more conditions that service dogs help to mitigate are not visible until the individual has an episode. That is why it’s important to not distract working dogs. They are often detecting slight chemical change or behavioral changes in individuals that can keep the handler out of the hospital and safe from harm. Misrepresenting a pet as a service dog is not only harmful it is also unlawful.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA)

There’s no hiding it, animals can provide emotional support...most are simply freelancing. While emotional support animals provide comfort, they are not considered working dogs. As they are only permitted in apartments, and traveling with a prescription from their doctor stating medical need for an emotional support animal. There is no specific form of training for ESAs. This often causes access issues for legitimate working teams when Emotional Support Animals are misrepresentation as a working dog.

Heroes come in All Shapes and Sizes

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some have two legs, some have four paws. Some wear dog tags, some wear dog collars. The companionship and loyalty of dogs creates quite the bond between handler and dog. There are many dogs that have helped to keep people safe and provide comfort in tough times. Words seem to fall short when describing some of these heroes, but they all deserve recognition for their unfailing loyalty.

We'd highly recommend that you visit the Michigan War Dog Memorial if you get a chance. It's a great place to go and honor our fallen heroes.


Eric has been helping owners regain their lives and enjoy their companions for 10 years. Eric's experience runs from rehabilitating aggressive dogs, tackling the toughest behavioral challenges, and training service dogs, to training narcotics dogs and hunting dogs. As well as anything in between. A Michigan native, Eric learned his craft apprenticing under two long time trainers in Colorado and went on to teach dozens of other trainers as well as countless pet owners.

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