A little known, but interesting chapter in Quartermaster History is the War Dog Program.
During World War II, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Kennel Club and a new group calling itself “Dogs for Defense” mobilized dog owners across the country to donate quality animals to the Quartermaster Corps.
Dogs donated by a patriotic public to the Army saved the lives of a number of Soldiers in combat.
Beginning March 13, 1942, the Quartermaster Corps ran the Army’s so-called “K-9 Corps” and undertook to change these new recruits into good fighting “soldiers.” The readily-used phrase “K-9 Corps” became a popular title for the War Dog Program in the 1940s and 50s, and found wide informal usage both inside and outside the military. The term however is not official. Its origin lies in its phonetic association with the equally unofficial, alternative phrase “Canine Corps.”
At first, more than 30 breeds were accepted. Later the list was narrowed down to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Farm Collies and Giant Schnauzers. In all, a little more than 19,000 dogs were procured between 1942 and 1945 (about 45 percent of these were rejected as unsuited for training). Initially the Quartermaster Corps placed the War Dog Program in its Plant Protection Branch of the Inspection Division, on the theory that dogs would be used chiefly with guards at civilian war plants.
The first estimates were that only about 200 dogs would be needed, but that soon changed. Dogs for Defense worked with qualified civilian trainers, who volunteered their services without pay, to train dogs for the program. Soon the demand for sentry dogs outstripped the original limited training program. As requirements increased, reception and training responsibility was transferred to the Quartermaster Remount Branch, which had years of experience dealing with animals.
The first War Dog Reception and Training Center was established at Front Royal in August 1942. During the war, five War Dog Reception and Training Centers were operated by the Quartermaster Corps. These were located at Front Royal; Fort Robinson, Neb.; Cat Island, Gulfport, Miss.; Camp Rimini at Helena, Mo.; and San Carlos, Calif.
Small temporary training centers were set up at Beltsville, Md., and Fort Belvoir to train mine detection dogs. The Quartermaster Corps trained dog handlers, most of which were Quartermaster Soldiers, as well as dogs and was responsible for developing all doctrine for training and use of War Dogs. It even developed a Technical Manual; TM 10-396, War Dogs, July 1, 1943.
Total training time for a dog was between eight and 12 weeks. At the training centers, dogs began a rigid military routine.
A “basic training” period was initiated where dogs were trained to carry out certain fundamental commands such as sit and stay. They were also accustomed to muzzles, gas masks, riding in military vehicles and to gunfire. After completion of basic training each dog went through specialized training:
─ Information provided by Dr. Steve Anders, Fort Lee Quartermaster historian. Focus on the Fort is a bi-weekly feature highlighting some of Fort Lee and Quartermaster history. The information is compiled from the Quartermaster Museum Web site.