March 13, 1942—this day in history marks the beginning of the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army training dogs for the freshly established War Dog Program or K-9 Corps. In March 1942, the training began, and later that year, the QMC was asked to train dogs for the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines.
More than a million dogs served on both sides of the First World War, providing psychological comfort to the soldiers and carrying messages through the complex network of trenches. After World War I, the US abandoned the practice of training dogs for military purposes. In December 1941, when the country became a part of the Second World War, a group called Dogs for Defense and the American Kennel Association started a movement calling on dog owners to donate healthy, capable animals to the QMC.
Initially, the K-9 Corps allowed the enrollment of over 30 breeds of dogs. However, the list was later narrowed down to seven—Siberian Huskies, Eskimo dogs, Malamutes, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian sheepdogs, and collies. Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned German Shepherd puppy from France, made the dog breed famous across the country when he featured in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River. The K-9 Corps members were trained for 8 to 12 weeks in total. After undergoing basic obedience training, they were sent to one of four specialized programs to train them for work as mine-detection dogs, sentry dogs, messenger dogs, or patrol or scout dogs. Scout dogs proved to be of great help in active combat duty by alerting patrols when an enemy approached, preventing surprise attacks.
German Shepherd Chips, a dog that served with the 3rd Infantry Division of the Army, was the top canine hero of World War II. Chips was a trained sentry dog who broke away from his handlers and attacked a machine gun nest in Italy, due to which the entire crew had to surrender. The wounded Chips was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and the Distinguished Service Cross. However, they were all revoked later because an Army official prevented official animal commendations.