Dogs of War: Why the Navy SEALs would use Dogs as a Force Multiplier - ITS Tactical
 

Dogs of War: Why the Navy SEALs would use Dogs as a Force Multiplier

By Joel Ryals

1 of 6 in the series Dogs of War

With the recent news release about a K-9 being part of the raid on the Bin Laden compound and having an active role in Special Operations military actions, many people are asking themselves, “What was that dog doing on the raid?”

Speculation abounds regarding the breed and possible surgical alterations to the dog, like titanium teeth to “rip through body armor.”

Much of the talk is sensationalism and fails to really capture what capabilities dogs have to offer and how we can best integrate dogs into our Special Operations teams. I hope to open your eyes to things you either never thought of, or previously thought were impossible with dogs.

There are tremendous advantages to integrating dogs into military operations, to include Special Operations teams. But to be completely honest, there are also a few disadvantages that should be considered. You can determine if the advantages out-weigh the disadvantages.

It seems apparent that, at least for this mission, the SEALs determined that the advantages were worth the work. So let’s examine what these disadvantages are before we start talking about how dogs are assets.

Disadvantages of Dogs in Combat

Dogs require additional training. As with any soldier, you must train a dog to do what you require it to do. One of the benefits that Special Operations teams have is that most of their lives consist of training. But there’s certainly an aspect of training that must become specific to the dog. However, if you use a little imagination, you can integrate most of this training into other team training to minimize this aspect.

It would be particularly useful if the initial training (obedience, scent work and bite work introduction) of the dog is complete prior to introducing the dog to the team. Once a dog has been introduced to the techniques needed to be useful to a Special Operations team, the dog is simply integrated into all training with the team from that time forward. So just as all Special Operations under go an initial training period where they learn the tactics, techniques and procedures needed to be useful to the teams they are about to join, the dog must undergo the same training. Is this really a disadvantage?

Dogs require their own equipment

There is equipment specific to the dog that is required for much of the things that a Special Operations team would do. Harnesses are required for airborne operations, rappelling and the like. Long lines may or may not be required for certain applications of tracking and scent work. During close quarters combat, ballistic vests may be needed as well. Some handlers might want to put boots on dogs for certain applications, or even goggles. So while adding a dog to a team may require specific equipment be used, which of the other soldiers on the team don’t require this equipment as well. While this is a planning consideration, is it really a disadvantage?

Dogs can make noise, act unexpectedly or get in the way

This is the number one complaint or objection I hear when introducing this idea to Law Enforcement SWAT Teams, and standard military units. I have also heard this argument used by Tier 1 Operators, but thankfully they are almost always open to the “show me” counter argument. Dogs certainly can have these disadvantages, but they don’t necessarily have them. Just as the SEALs have a rigorous selection process, the dogs used for these applications must also be selected to be capable of performing.

Dogs from a highly capable breeder can ensure that the lines of dogs have far more dogs that can perform these functions that not. The Germans had almost perfected this breeding technique during WWII and Baden K-9 of Ontario, Canada carries on their breeding techniques to this day. We’ll discuss how to ensure that these disadvantages don’t show up mid-mission in this series.

Dogs can’t do everything that humans can do

While it’s true that dogs don’t have opposing thumbs and thus can’t hold a cell phone, or grasp a standard round door knob, there are creative ways of training a dog to do almost anything they would need to do on a mission without assistance from their team. Dogs can climb vertical ladders; open almost any door (assuming it is not locked) and many other tasks that your average dog owner would consider “tricks.”

For an operator, these “tricks” are essential to all team members whether they walk on two legs or four. So this disadvantage really plays back into the first, there’s going to be additional training time involved. One great benefit to the trainer however, is that once a few dogs are trained, you can train the rest of the dogs with and around these trained dogs and the rate of learning will go up dramatically. Puppies always learn faster with adult dogs around.

So now that you are aware of the primary reasons people say that dogs can’t be integrated into Special Operations teams, or at least why these opponents would say they shouldn’t be integrated, let’s discuss the reasons these dogs are being integrated onto these teams at an ever increasing rate.

Psychological Benefits of a Dog

No, I am not talking about the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you pat a dog on the head or scratch him behind the ears. I am talking about the cold shiver that runs up the spine of the enemy when they see the arms being ripped off their buddy while taking fire from you and your team.

This is the psychological advantage that the dog brings to the battlefield. Especially among the religious peoples of the world who believe that being touched, much less bitten, by an “unclean” dog damns them to hell if they die without cleansing themselves.

Dogs as Force Multipliers

In simple terms, a force multiplier is anything that gives you a strategic advantage with fewer personnel. It makes 10 men able to effectively combat 100 men. While there are many types of force multipliers, let’s consider a few that the dog can bring to the battlefield.

Fear

When your enemy is afraid, it gives you a tremendous advantage on the battlefield. I don’t know if soldiers actually dipped bullets in pig’s blood during the Vietnam conflict, but just the reputation that they might be gave them a fear advantage over their enemy. The same is true of dogs on the battlefield. People fear fearsome dogs. Seeing your friend fall to the ground screaming for no apparent reason because they are being bitten in the leg by a dog is a terrifying thing. This brings us to the second force multiplier…

Surprise

There are so many ways that dogs can be used for surprise. Dogs can be deployed through small spaces to emerge from locations the enemy would never suspect an attack from. They can deploy through windows with no warning. When men are shooting at one another during a firefight, dogs are practically never even seen before they strike. Their reduced size and incredible speed mean that they can be across a room much faster than a man can, causing confusion in the enemy during a raid.

Deception

There are many ways that deception can be used, it is most effective when combined with distraction. Deception can be giving the enemy the impression that they are surrounded when they are not. A dog moving in and around combatants causing them to be attacked from varying different angles, quickly throws them into confusion and gives the organized raiding force a distinct advantage.

Technology

Many may raise an eyebrow at this, but give me a second to explain. Dogs are the ultimate in low technology, brute force and destruction to men, but they give a technological advantage on the battlefield. Dogs can be used to carry equipment into locations that men cannot go, or that would take men much longer to get to. Dogs can move through narrow tunnels or pipes where men simply cannot be effective.

With radio receivers in their ear (yes, these exist) and infrared cameras mounted on their backs, these dogs can be highly effective intelligence gatherers. Dogs can be trained to take detailed commands such as “turn right,” “stop,” back up” and so on. Anything that you can mount on a robot, you can mount on a dog, and robots can’t bite you.

K-9 Capabilities

In addition to assisting soldiers with the above force multipliers, dogs also bring something to the battlefield that simply cannot be reproduced by any machine or technology that we yet possess. Let’s consider the primary capabilities a dog can offer a Special Operations team.

Scent

One of the greatest capabilities a dog can bring and the primary reason they are used by law enforcement and military, is their sense of smell. While humans walk into a restaurant and smell the food (they may even distinguish the types of meals being prepared) the dog detects whether it is electric, gas or wood stoves being used; the type of meat being cooked; the spices being added; the cleanliness of the cooks; the sicknesses of the patrons; who is carrying weapons; and if there are any explosives of drugs present on the grounds. Wouldn’t you love to be able to tell all that with just your sense of smell?

From a tactical standpoint, dogs are the fastest way to detect explosive booby traps so that team members can avoid or disarm them. They can indicate on rooms that have people in them or are vacant. And in the situation of a fleeing suspect, or even the case where you find no one, they can indicate that there was someone there and be used to track that person down. These capabilities are impossible to replicate.

Sure, operators can carefully search for, detect and avoid or disarm booby traps without dogs. Certainly, infrared technology exists to determine if there are occupants in a room or not. Absolutely, there are men who can track down suspects through the use of observation. But none of these things can be done by man at anywhere near the speed that the dog can do them. And each of these capabilities are highly specialized and take years of training to become proficient at. But the dog does them all naturally. We must simply communicate to the dog what we want them to detect.

Hearing

Dogs don’t have all that much better hearing than humans in the ranges of sound that we both detect. But a dog has a much larger range of noises they can hear than humans do. When I was training dogs in counter sniper techniques, during our testing stage we had various military and law enforcement sniper teams moving in the field. I was amazed to discover that the primary sense used to detect these teams was not scent, but hearing. The dog could detect the slightest clink of metal, or crack of stick, or fence being disturbed. During 4 days of testing, every team in the field was detected multiple times and tracked down as a result of the sense of hearing of my dog.

For a team of operators, you should never shrug off the specific indication of your dog on sound. Always pay special attention to the area they are focused on. Ears erect, eyes focused, and tense body almost always means there is someone there.

Size and Agility

This has been mentioned briefly, but the size and agility of the dog offers a distinct advantage to the Special Operations team. I have deployed dogs, or seen dogs deployed, into air conditioning ducts, small culverts or holes in cave walls that it would have been very difficult for men to get into or through. Dogs can also leap obstacles that men simply cannot, or that would cause noise and give away their position. I even have several dogs trained that can climb trees. (I have won a few bets with this one.) But dogs can be placed in various positions awaiting their handlers command to join him or attack from a different angle to cause confusion in the enemy.

Combat

I have mentioned several options above, but wanted to make sure that the capability of the dog to combat humans is tremendous. Unfortunately, most of the training methodologies out there render many of the dog’s natural instincts in a fight useless. We will discuss the training and requirements for a Special Operations dog’s bite training and employment in the next article.

Conclusion

Dogs are tremendous assets to a Special Operations team. They can be integrated into practically any mission you can imagine. They are force multipliers and bring capabilities to the battle that humans cannot replicate, or at least they can perform these functions at a much higher rate of speed.

Join us next time as we discuss in more detail, the combat capabilities of a dog and what a Tactical K-9 must be able to do to be effective in battle. Until next time, this is Joel with Dunetos K-9, helping sharpen our world…one dog at a time.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Joel Rylas as a contributing author on ITS Tactical. Joel is the founder and head trainer of Dunetos K-9, a training facility and equipment manufacturer specializing in Tactical and standard K-9 equipment. He’s been training and handling dogs for over 10 years and works closely with Baden K-9, a highly respected training facility in Ontario, Canada. Joel has served in the United States Army for 11 years as a Military Police Officer deploying to the Pentagon days after the 9/11 attack, Afghanistan (2003), Iraq (2007) and is currently serving in Bogota, Colombia in the War on Drugs. Joel has specialized in integrating dogs into every aspect of life, from personal obedience and protection to specialized military application.

Are you getting more than 14¢ of value per day from ITS?

Thanks to the generosity of our supporting members, we’ve eliminated annoying ads and obtrusive content. We want your experience here at ITS to be beneficial and enjoyable.

At ITS, our goal is to provide different methods, ideas and knowledge that could one day save your life. If you’re interested in supporting our mission and joining our growing community of supporters, click below to learn more.

Discussion

  • BAND-AID

    Excellent article and am looking forward to the second one.

  • Foxbatt

    GREAT article. thank you Joel. this is just furthing my interest in K-9 operations

  • Madnet

    Joel, having worked a dual purpose K-9 for over 9 years, great article! The deployment of a K-9 has so many facets. Not just the selection of the k-9, but also selection of the handler. Those of us who have worked k-9’s know that the attitude and training travel both ends of the lead!!! When the proper selection is made, both handler and dog, there are endless possibilities, as long as they both consistently train. Again, great article.

    • Joel Ryals

      Madnet–My mentor calls true dog handlers Dogmen. As mentioned, Dogmen must be constantly with their dogs. I refer to this as total integration. When a true soldier integrates a dog in a real way the possibilities are endless. I hope you enjoy the other articles.

  • Wayne K.

    Dogs! You gotta love’em! I’ve had one or two most of my life. Got 2 now–German Shepherd and Jack Russell. Great article and looking forward to more.

  • madwest

    Great article. I really hate a lot of the internet nonsense about what kind of dog or if the dog was somehow superhero enhanced. Dogs have been going to war with man almost as long as man has, and will be continuing to be by our side long into the future.

    • Joel Ryals

      Madwest — Hopefully we will be seeing more dogs of war on the battlefield. Much of the art has been lost. Only by doing will we regain this ancient capability and we will be better for it.

  • Megan

    Great article! This is my new favorite saying: “Anything that you can mount on a robot, you can mount on a dog, and robots can’t bite you.”

  • Darrell Kuhne

    Thanks for the great article Joel! I look forward to more in this series.

  • l j

    What is the dog in the picture wearing?

    • Joel Ryals

      I j — I did not take the picture, so I am assuming based on what I see, but it looks like a ballistic vest, flat collar and muzzle.

  • the american staffordshire terrier is a very capable animal… for those who do not know that is a pitbull they are stealthy, quiet if trained and incredibly strong. they come in various colors for specific missions they can alot of things.. yes we all know that they got alot of press since the mike vick outrage but this is something that should be considered, i own one with the greatest temperment, i would offer his dna for futher research if interested. i am a naval reservist living in the united states and very dedicated to this country. i think it is worth a try….. please respond back!

    • Joel Ryals

      Anthony — If you have the opportunity to take him to Baden, I think you would be even more amazed. They have a way of bringing out the best in dogs. Pitbulls are much like most other breeds these days, unfortunately, in that it is kind of a crap shoot as to what you are going to get. If you want another dog like yours, you need to find your dog’s parents. Finding someone who really knows how to breed is the only way to get consistent results, and there are just not very many competent breeders out there anymore. That is another I like about Baden, they only breed their own dogs, have several hundred dogs in their lines around the country, and DO NOT import unknown dogs into their lines. Give them a call, you will be glad you did.

  • s. neary

    Fantastic article. Being a professional handler/trainer for the last 26 (and counting) years, I have infinite respect for these animals, what they can do and provide for us. gsd’s are my personal breed of choice, and have involved them not just in obedience but search and rescue, obstacle courses and bite work. Incredibly versatile, dedicated and intelligent animals, and they ask so little of us. Thanks for highlighting all that they can bring to these military encounters.

    • Joel Ryals

      The German Shepherd’s Dog is still one of the top 3 working breeds in the world in my opinion. Mine is laying on the floor next to me right now, and could cuddle with my kids or rip an intruder’s arms off in the next instant, who could ask for more than that?

  • s. neary

    my approach, methods and philosophy of training is in my book, “Woof Did You Say”, available through Amazon. Silly title, very serious work.

  • 10toesup

    I have worked with three Baden dogs as part of our SWAT team and have found them to be quite an assest. They are well tempered, do not bark, and are ready to go “right out of the box” as they are raised together and “watch” training from a young age. Another specialty of these dogs is that they are not “dog aggressive” and will work together as a team to take someone down, rather than fight each other.

    These are just the police/security dogs. I’ve had limited time with the military dogs, but I swear that one, who was chained to a tree during training, had walked off his limits and was waited for someone to enter his AO. I grew up with police dogs and have worked with military police dogs, so I’m not intimidated by them. But, the look in this SOB’s eyes said “killer”. I remember thinking “If I could take someone into the shit with me, it would be him.”

    • Joel Ryals

      10toesup — For anyone who has not check out Baden K-9, I highly recommend them. If you can travel or are in the North East, there is no better location for training for dog obedience through the highest military training available. They are simply second to none. Anything they tell you will be accomplished that day, WILL be accomplished. They are also an outstanding family and their hospitality and welcoming attitude to all that train there makes it all that much better. Check them out at http://www.badenk9.com.

  • Dan

    I agree on the German Shepherd-a great family protector and will shread anyone who tried to attack one of my family members. Great bite dog, good (not great) nose and very trainable. Did I mention a very loving Companion? You would be hard pressed to find a Human more loyal to you than your Shepherd.

  • Dave

    My grandfather brought his German Shepherd when he served overseas. Saved his life and his unit a couple of times by spotting the enemy, alerting him of ambushes and even killing a few people.

    The dog did this without any military training what so ever. My grandfather did bring a whip though, I figure he corrected the dog with it.

Do you have what you need to prevail?

Shop the ITS Store for exclusive merchandise, equipment and hard to find tactical gear.

Do you have what you need to prevail? Tap the button below to see what you’re missing.