Military working dogs have been used by the U.S. armed forces since World War I.
In World War II, 436 scout dogs walked combat patrols overseas, often detecting the enemy at a 1,000 yards, long before men became aware of them.
Dogs continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts. In Korea, the Army used about 1,500 dogs, primarily for guard duty.
During the Vietnam War, nearly 4,000 dogs were employed and, officially, 281 were killed in action.
Nearly 120 military working dog teams deployed to the gulf region during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
And in today's Global War on Terrorism, military working dogs and their handlers are at work.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Redican, kennel master with the 209th Military Police Detachment, recently returned from Afghanistan where he and his unit, assigned to Task Force Guardian, controlled all the working dogs in the Afghanistan theater of operations.
Redican said Afghanistan was a great learning experience because he was able to put into play everything he had been told the dogs could do.
"I saw firsthand the dogs' actual capabilities (in a wartime environment)."
"A dog is basically a Soldier, and that dog will put his life on the line to protect the human," Redican said.
Fort Benning has 11 dogs assigned, four of which are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (with their handlers).
It's not easy becoming a dog handler, Redican said. In addition to attending military police school, a dog handler has to request and attend the Department of Defense 13-week Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
All dogs must be trained to alert to a drug or an explosive odor before the Department of Defense buys the dog, Redican said. Basic obedience is a must, also.
"Some of the dogs we receive are a lot smarter than others. It's totally dependent upon the dog on how well and how fast they are going to progress in their training," he said.
Each team spends eight hours a week in training. Each dog requires four hours of detection training, either drugs or explosives, and four hours of patrol training.
A bomb dog is trained on nine odors and drug dogs are trained on six, Redican said. During patrol training, a dog is trained in both obedience and scouting - searching for people in buildings or in wooded areas.
"But the dog's favorite task is the actual bite work itself," Redican said.
"We teach the dog to attack on command," Redican said. "They have also been trained to attack without command based on what the bad person is doing."
"The whole purpose is to train the dog to protect its handler and to react to a rapid approach by someone seen as a threat to the handler."
Staff Sgt. Eric Hooker, Plans NCO and senior dog handler for the 209th MP Detachment, returned from Iraq a year ago with his dog, Ex.
"The deployment was scary, but fun," Hooker said. "Ex saved my life several times while we were deployed together.
"On one patrol, Ex found an explosive inside a car trunk, alerted me, and EOD came in and took care of it."
As a reward for finding an explosive, Ex gets to play with a rubber ball or a cone. Food and affection are also incentives.
Ex and Hooker have been together three years. It wasn't hard to build a bond with Ex, Hooker said, because the dog was between handlers.
"I was the first person to give him attention in a couple of weeks and it's been me and him ever since."
Ex is the oldest dog in the 209th kennel and should retire soon. He will lead a "dog's life" in the Hooker home. Transition into a family environment will be easy, Hooker said.
"It's in his nature to be a friendly dog, but, make no mistake, Ex is aggressive on command and will protect me if the need arises."
Redican said it's important for people, especially children to respect a military working dog.
"If you see an MP out walking with a dog don't be afraid. Ninety percent of the dogs we have are trained to be people friendly."
The 209th also supports the recruiting mission. Dogs, especially Ex, are asked to go to different recruiting functions around the country.
"A dog team shows prospective recruits that the Army has a wide variety of jobs," Redican said.