How Are War & Military Dogs Trained & Used?

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Using dogs for military purposes has been happening for many years. If you have ever wondered what this process looks like to train a dog, then you’re in the right place.

In order to get a dog to be in a place where they are ready for military-grade jobs, they must first be trained in a number of different ways. This process can be tedious for trainers and dogs in different ways, so knowing what to expect before beginning is key to a successful training experience.

Before you even begin training your dog for military purposes, you need to understand that not all breeds are made for military jobs. The most commonly used dog breeds for the job are German Shepherds, Pit Bulls and Belgian Malinois. These breeds are very smart and able to handle the caliber of work that needs to be done.

We will walk you through the steps to train these animals and explore the purpose of training them, so you know exactly how they are used. If you are reading this article with the goal of training your own dog, then we hope you find these tips and steps to be helpful for your training journey.

In this article

‍8 Ways to Train Your Dog For Military Work

Military Dogs are hands down some of the most well-behaved and attentive dogs you can come across. The process of training these canines to handle the job might seem like an impossible feat to some, but is actually not too much for someone to handle.

A lot of the techniques used to train a civilian dog tricks such as sit, fetch and shake, are the same techniques used by Military Working Dog Handlers. Once you grasp the method of teaching the animal, the process is very simple and works like a charm.

Some of the techniques and ways we have gathered for training your dog for military work might seem very simple, but are crucial to creating an animal for such serious work. Be sure to complete each step, and do not skip any of them for the best results possible.

Once these canines are fully trained, they are able to help out in a number of ways. At the end of this article we will list the various duties and jobs performed by these amazing creatures, giving you a full picture of a Military dog and all that is involved.

Have Patience

When training any animal, the most important element in the process is remaining patient when you get frustrated. A lot of people think that just because you are training a military dog means that you need to be more harsh, but this is the complete opposite of what needs to happen.

You must be patient with the animal every step of the way, and this sometimes means remaining calm and not putting timetables on any trick or skill to be mastered. If someone is wanting to become a military dog trainer, they must show that they are patient and able to remain calm while working with the animal.

When you work with an animal, you must be open to the idea that they might not ever fully grasp a concept, while other breeds or dogs might master the skill in a much shorter time period. The ability to keep your environment for training as positive as possible will show your animal that you truly care about them.

Build A Relationship

The dog you are training for military work must see first and foremost that you want to have a positive relationship with them. They need to know that you are the one in charge, but you treat them with love and respect, never with force.

If you are just meeting the animal for the very first time, it is important to hold off on the training for a few days and allow yourself some time to bond with the animal. This will show the dog that you are not a threat to them, and allow you to learn a few nuances of how that particular animal operates.

When you take charge of the needs of the animal, they will see that you love them and enjoy being around them. If you are unable to feed, walk, clean or pet them without complaining or grumbling, then training them for military work is completely out of the question.

A great way to build this relationship is to take your dog on walks every day and spend time grooming him or her. When your dog feels well taken care of, they will respond much better when the training process actually begins.

Medical Check-Ups

When you begin working with military dogs for training purposes, it is important to take a few days in the beginning to really get to know the animal, as was mentioned previously. A good way to make sure the dog is well-off is to take a trip to the vet.

Your veterinarian will be able to perform a medical exam on the animal and verify that he or she is in good health and able to handle the training process as well as the work that lies ahead.

As a dog owner, always check your dog every single day to make sure there are no issues that arise and that he or she is in the best health possible at all times. The moment you notice something might be a little off, be sure to follow up with your doctor to make sure no medical attention is needed.

While you are grooming your dog and doing your daily brushing it is a good time to do a quick look-over to make sure nothing is awry.

Keep Distractions Low

If you have ever been around any dog for any period of time, you are aware of the high distraction level of animals. If you are wanting your dog to be at the military level of training, the best thing you can do is find a training environment that is calm with very little distractions.

When your dog gets distracted, they are unable to perform at the level necessary for military work, so eliminating these as soon as possible is the best mode of operation for both you and your animal.

The location of where you choose to train is a key element in the process, so choose somewhere such as the corner of a park or another enclosed area like a backyard. If you train in a busy area, the chances of your animal getting distracted and not performing where you know they should are very high.


Military dogs are a great form of soldier because of their ability to operate on a schedule. Some might think that this just happens due to their breed and their built in sense of routine, but that is not the case.

Operating on a schedule is something that the trainer helps the animal to establish and must be taken very seriously. If you train at different times of every day, the dog will not know what to expect or when they are allowed to relax and when they need to be on alert.

The best thing to do is to choose one or two times each day that you will hold your training sessions. When you go to train, make sure the location is the same each time to keep your dog in a routine with consistency.

Most military dogs train for only four hours every week, with 30 minute sessions each day. This session can be broken up into two 15-minute pieces, but it must be done every day of the week. Consistency is key.

Positive Reinforcement

When a dog does the trick you are wanting them to do, always reward them with positive reinforcement. This allows your dog to know that you like the behavior they are showcasing and that they need to repeat the skill or behavior.

Staying positive even when they show a negative behavior is important in keeping a positive environment for your training sessions. As hard as it might be, try to not focus on the negative behaviors but rather praise them for positive reinforcement.

When you are training and the dog performs as desired, reward them with verbal praise or even with a treat. When a dog gets your praise, they are happy and more than likely to continue with the same behavior in order to gain praise.

While this might seem like a step or skill that is important for training a house pet, it is interesting how the exact same method applies to any caliber of dog training.

Use A Firm Speaking Voice

The first few commands given to a military dog must be short and concise, and usually no more than just one word. The majority of the time, the first commands to be mastered are “sit”, “down”, “heel”, and “stay”.

Once the first command is mastered, the animal is ready to move on to the next skill. Using a hand motion with the word will help them to know exactly what you are wanting them to do.

If your dog is not responding to your commands, slight nudges are allowed, but never be forceful in getting them to perform the command. Again, staying positive is the most important thing in the entire process.

Never shout commands as this might show anger or aggression, and once your dog has mastered these skills you can move onto more crucial skills such as finding explosives.


When the dog performs the desired task or skill, it is important that the positive behavior is rewarded in a timely manner. The verbal praise you give to him or her shows that you are proud of what they did and that you want them to repeat this behavior in the future.

Not all rewards need to be treats, but examples of rewards are playing with a chew toy, a pat on the head, or in some cases a small treat. When treats are used, be sure to keep them small to keep the dog’s calorie count in a reasonable area.

Most military dog trainers only use treats at the beginning stages of training because they need the dog to be satisfied with just a verbal reward. If you think about a real-life military situation with a dog, handing a treat does not always seem to be practical in every scenario.

9 Different Uses For Having A Military Dog

Once a dog is trained, they are ready for their new job as a military canine, but what exactly is it that they will be doing? Here are the top uses for military dogs - some dogs are trained for just one specific purpose, but others are able to do 2 or even more of the following tasks.

NDD - Narcotics Detector Dog

A Narcotics Detector Dog is brought in to detect either drugs or explosives. There are separate dogs for each of these different fields for the benefit of not confusing the officers or handlers on duty. If the same dog could detect a drug and an explosive, no one would know what was found when the dog does his or her job.

The most common place a NDD dog is used is at the airport, various checkpoints or at the border. They are able to sniff out a number of different drugs, even if they are very well concealed by the person who has them in their possession.

While many different breeds of animals are able to handle this caliber of a job, the most commonly used animal is a Retriever.

EDD - Explosive Detector Dog

An Explosive Detector Dog is used in a lot of the same situations as an NDD dog - checkpoints, entry points, etc. These animals are able to smell if any explosives are present, even if it is a very small quantity of them.

EDD dogs are used throughout all different branches of the military. The purpose of having one of these dogs is to help law enforcement or military personnel know about a threat without causing a huge scene and disrupting the environment.

When an EDD dog smells a bomb or other explosive, the correct people know right away and can take care of the issue at hand.

MDD - Mine Detector Dog

A Mine Detector Dog is used by the military to help locate buried mines or other forms of artillery. This particular job of a military dog was originally looked at with a large amount of criticism and concern.

Many people felt that these MDD dogs did not do a good job and were not reliable. Over the years, this mindset has shifted and more and more people now see the importance of locating mines with the use of dogs for military purposes.

The most commonly bred animals for this type of work are Malinois, Shepherds and Labs.

CTD - Combat Tracker Dog

Combat Tracker Dogs are able to not only locate the explosives, but also find the person responsible for hiding them as well. A lot of times, the military will use a separate dog to find the explosives and a CTD to narrow down the hunt for who is behind them.

This type of dog was used in several instances in the Vietnam Combat to help find guerrillas in Vietnam. The military commonly categorizes this type of military dog duty as a single-purpose, however, they are able to be in the dual-purpose category as well.

PEDD - Patrol Explosive Detector Dog

Patrol Explosive Detector Dogs are used in the military police but also other forms of law enforcement. The main job of these animals is to find bombs by sniffing, but they have other jobs they perform as well.

With the ability to do basic patrol work, it should come as no surprise that the top breeds used for this type of job are Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and most commonly used, German Shepherds.

PNDD - Patrol Narcotics Detector Dog

Often used hand in hand with a PEDD, a Patrol Narcotics Detector Dog is there for sniffing out various drugs. Since the jobs of sniffing out drugs and explosives are usually performed by separate animals, it is important to have multiple animals to handle these various duties.

The use of PNDDs is seen in almost all different branches of the military, including the Marines, Air Force, Navy and Army.

MPC - Multi-Purpose Canine

A Multi-Purpose Canine is used only by Special Operations Personnel, and can sometimes be classified as the most intense and highly trained animal category. These animals handle some of the most dangerous and extreme situations and environments.

A MPC does a lot of the same jobs as a PEDD (Patrol Explosive Detector Dog), except they are trained to handle situations where a parachute is used. Other situations where a MPC dog is called in might involve rappel operations.

When the situation calls for it, these animals are able to handle waterproof tactical vests as well as night-vision cameras that allow the handlers to see what they are seeing.

CIA K-9 Corps

When you take a MPC trained animal and increase the amount of things it is able to handle, you are then dealing with an animal that has the highest level of training and one that is used by the CIA, known as the CIA K-9 Corps.

These animals can sniff out over 19,000 different explosives and can patrol as well. They have been used in several large events with a big crowd such as Super Bowl games or Olympic Games.


Prior to 2002, a working military dog was sent to be euthanized upon completion of his or her work for the military. In 2002, Congress passed the Robby Law, a law that gave these canine heroes a second chance after service to be adopted.

Many times, the animals are adopted by their handlers as such a bond is formed over the years while handling such intense situations, but they are open to be adopted by the public if the handler is not able to take them.

Once these animals are retired from their job working for the military, they are not allowed to be brought back into the line of duty. While some people might not understand the purpose of having a military dog, they have performed some amazing tasks and helped the military in a number of ways over the years.

How Military Canines Have Helped

Here is a closer look at a few ways these amazing animals have helped the government and military in a number of different scenarios. The work they do is crucial and very important to the safety and success of the military. This list also includes various interesting facts about the animals in addition to how they have helped their country.

  • During WWI, dogs were used to carry messages from one post to another as far back as 1916!
  • Dogs have been used to help find soldiers who were missing, yet wounded on the battlefield during seasons of war.
  • When using gas masks, these canines were able to take supplies or other needed materials to soldiers who were wounded during WWII.
  • On October 26, a dog named Conan located the ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • There are over 2,500 military dogs with about 700 in active duty at any given time.  
  • Over 85% of military dogs are purchased from overseas in Germany and the Netherlands.
  • The average time in active line of duty for a military dog is between 8-9 years.
  • When the training process is taking place, only about half of the dogs that start the process, make it to the other side and become military animals.
  • The most commonly used reward for these animals is a Kong. When the dog loves the Kong, they will give their best effort and work as hard as possible in order to receive their reward at the end of the day.
  • Military dogs actually mourn the loss of their handler, in the event of this taking place. You might think that only humans can mourn, but this has been proven to be false! When a soldier does not make it, the dog feels the loss of his or her teammate and will mourn.
  • PTSD happens in dogs as well as in humans. The symptoms include withdrawal, attempts to run away, hyper-vigilance, increased startle response, etc.