By now we've all heard that the elite U.S. Navy SEALs who killed Osama Bin Laden on Sunday had a four-legged secret weapon -- a MWD, otherwise known as a military working dog trained to use its sniffer in combat. Beyond reports that say the bin Laden dog was lowered into the compound from a helicopter while strapped to a human member of the team, very little specifics are known about the most courageous canine in the country. But military sources say it is likely one of three breeds: Belgian Malinois (shown here), German Shepherd, or Labrador Retriever.
So why are these particular breeds trained to be MWDs? (Because when I think of say, a lab, I don't think of it as being overly aggressive.)
According to The New York Times, the military typically uses those breeds for its working dog training programs because they:
... have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence, and adaptability to almost any climatic condition.
In other words, it's not that the dogs are overly aggressive; these aren't guard dogs we're talking about. Rather, these are particularly skilled -- with the proper training -- at aiding in combat.
But let's stop for just one second: Ours is a country that spends billions of dollars each year pampering our pets (which is likely why this story about a heroic dog is such a big deal in the first place). Therefore, it might be difficult for many of us (especially those of us with lazy pets) to imagine how a dog could possibly aid in war. But, in fact, the U.S. military has used dogs in combat for the last 50 years. And John Burnam, author of a book called A Soldier’s Best Friend, estimates the MWDs have saved "many thousands, hundreds of thousands [of lives] since World War II."
So what does a MWD actually do? The Pentagon's program trains them for the following tasks: tracking particular individuals, assisting with hard-to-see night missions, and sniffing out explosives. (Now you can see how the ability to send in a dog ahead of the soldiers to sniff out booby-traps could be key in saving lives.)
Reportedly, there are roughly 2,700 total MWDs in the U.S. military, 600 of which are in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, dogs have become such an integral part of the military that there's even a Military Working Dog Teams National Monument in the works to honor the U.S. military dog handlers and their incredible working dogs. Some people might think a monument to dogs is taking things a bit too far, but after this week, can you argue with it?
Image via arkuin/Flickr