Military working dogs like the one who chased down ISIS's leader are treated just like regular troops. Here's why.

White House via Associated PressIn this photo provided by the White House via the Twitter account of President Donald Trump after it was declassified by Trump, a photo of the military working dog that was injured tracking down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a tunnel beneath his compound in Syria.
  • Military dogs are so important that they sometimes hold ranks themselves – and they’re ranked one higher than their handlers.
  • By and large, military working dogs are treated as regular US troops would be.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Military working dogs are an essential part of many missions – even sensitive ones, like the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday night. They’re so important, in fact, that they occasionally hold ranks themselves, although it’s merely formal and not official, and they’re always ranked one higher than their handlers.

That “seniority” honours the dog’s role and reminds the handler to be lenient when it has a bad day.

The dog who chased after Baghdadi, leading to his death by suicide, has become a celebrity – even though the dog’s name remains classified. A photo of the dog led to confirmation of its breed (a Belgian Malinois), but little else is known about the good boy (or girl). Disclosing the dog’s name and rank could lead to information about the dog’s affiliation with Delta Force, a classified unit,The Washington Post reports. That unit is still in the field, and revealing the dog’s name could put its handler at risk, although the dog’s possible name and sex have been reported, by Newsweek and the Washington Post, respectively.

Read more to learn more about military working dogs.


The bond between a military working dog and its handler is vitally important to completing missions.

Sgt. Stormy Mendez / US Marine Corps / DViDSU.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Chrisman, a combat tracking dog trainer, and Cpl. Ludjo, a military working dog, both with Third Law Enforcement Battalion, Third Marine Information Group, play tug of war at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Centre, Twentynine Palms, California, Oct. 16, 2019.

A handler needs to be able to read shifts and subtleties in their canine partner’s behaviour to gather information about their targets or environments, and even how the dog is feeling.

For example, if the dog doesn’t feel like working, or has deficiencies with some tasks, the handler needs to be able to pick up on this and give the dog the tools, training, and motivation it needs to complete the task.


While the military working dog’s rank is a formality — not an official rank like human troops have — it’s meant to encourage handlers to treat their dogs with love and respect.

Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Bray / US Marine Corps / DVIDSU.S. Marine Corps military working dog Allie waits inside a Humvee to go on a mission while being held by her handler, Lance Cpl. Ronnie Ramcharan at the Central Training Centre, Okinawa, Japan on Aug. 25, 2019.

Handlers have to be able to communicate what their canine partners are “telling” them, and to know without a doubt that the dog will listen to him or her.

“There’s no doubt about my dog: Number one, he will protect me. Number two, he will find a bomb,” Sgt. 1st Class Regina Johnson told the Army in 2011.


Military working dogs whose units allow them to hold ranks are non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate / US Air Force / DVIDSAirman 1st Class Daniel Martinez, 355th Security Forces military working dog handler, participates in a simulated narcotic/bomb detection exercise with Darius, an MWD assigned to the 355 SFS, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2019.

By and large, military working dogs are treated as regular US troops would be.

Unfortunately, there was one period where military working dogs were left behind in a combat zone – in South Vietnam, during US troops’ hasty withdrawal there.

Prior to 2000, military working dogs were also euthanised after their service was finished. Military working dogs can now be adopted to civilians once their service is finished.


Cairo the dog, also a Belgian Malinois, earned accolades from former President Barack Obama for his role in killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Cairo secured the perimeter of bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and, should the al Qaeda leader have proven difficult to find, Cairo would be sent in after him.

Upon hearing that Cairo was involved in the raid, former President Barack Obama said, “I want to meet that dog,” according to an account in The New Yorker.

“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” one member of the SEAL team jokingly advised the president.


Military working dogs and their partners both require extensive training to keep up with the demands of their job.

Department of Defence

Dogs and their trainers go through a 93-day training program to cement their skills and gain practice as a team in real-world scenarios, according to the Army.

Only about 50% of the dogs the military procures to become military working dogs are actually suitable for the job.


Military working dogs fulfil several important roles in operations, like sniffing out explosives.

Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson / US Marine Corps / DVIDSCpl. Ramon Valenci, a dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, orders his military working dog, Red, to search for improvised explosive devices during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-17, aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Centre, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017.

Or detecting narcotics.

Yvonne Najera / DVIDS100th Military Police Detachment, Military Working Dog (MWD) Money, conducts basic obedience drills, June 25, 2019, Panzer Kaserne, Germany. The MWDs and their handlers are trained to provide narcotics and explosives detection keeping the bases safe from threats.

Locating the wounded.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton / US Air National Guard / DVIDSCallie, a search and rescue dog for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, rides in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as part of her familiarization training at the Boone National Guard Centre in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 29, 2018.

And as sentinels who can patrol and protect during a mission.

Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson / US Air Force / DVIDSTimo, 23d Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Military Working Dog (MWD), bites Joe Dukes, Lowndes County Sheriffs Office SWAT team lead, during a MWD capabilities demonstration, March 21, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Timo is trained to attack on or off leash with or without command.

They’re more than man’s best friend. Military working dogs are an essential part of the mission.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.