Dogs of War: Inside the U.S. Military's Canine Corps

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Schaddelee would not say how many, or what types of explosives the dogs can detect. But in a war situation, for example, he said if there is an unfamiliar substance being used, they can quickly be trained to detect it. Handlers are also taught at the base and go through an 11-week course.

The Nose Knows

Dogs rely on their sense of smell much the same way humans rely on their eyesight. And for good reason.

"The number of smell receptors in a human's nose ranges from 5 million to 15 million, whereas in a dog, it can range from 125 million to 250 million," said Donald Perrine, a veterinarian at Parkside Animal Medical Center in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

In addition to more scent cells, Perrine said the olfactory portion of a dog's brain is four times larger than a human's.

Their wet, black noses are so sensitive they can detect minute odors. In fact, researchers at Auburn University in Alabama discovered dogs can pick up scents as little as 500 parts per trillion.

At Lackland, canines are also trained for drug detection. In the future, Schaddelee said, dogs may be taught to sniff out land mines and chemical/biological agents.

Man's best friend has faithfully served in wars since 1939 as scouts, sentries, messengers, and much more. During Vietnam, the United States War Dogs Association estimates these brave animals and their handlers saved more than 10,000 lives.

But the country hasn't always shown its gratitude. For decades, veteran dogs deemed too old to serve (ten years and older) were euthanized. Now that's starting to change, thanks to a law passed in 2000, which allows retired military dogs to be adopted by their current or former handlers, law enforcement agencies, or individuals capable of caring for them.

"Our goal is to eventually retire about 50 percent of working dogs," said Schaddelee. "They're good soldiers and served their country well. We want to see them get a good retirement package."

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Dogs of War: Inside the U.S. Military's Canine Corps
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More National Geographic Iraq resources:
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