The Australian Defence Forces’ (ADFs) Special Operations Military Working Dogs (SOMWDs) are one of several elements which comprise the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOMD).
SOMWDs provide SOCOMD with specialist sensory, detection and protection capabilities to counter numerous threats across a range of environments, both domestically and overseas.
Within the wider-ADF service dogs can be divided into two categories:
- Military working dogs (MWD); and
- Explosive detector dogs (EDD).
The Royal Australian Engineers (RAE), the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police (RACMP) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Police employ service dogs in a variety of roles.
This article will provide the reader with an outline of service dogs in general and SOWMDs specifically, starting with their background and then role. An overview of service dogs’ capabilities will be provided before moving on to recruitment and selection. Finally the article will provide some useful links.
Service dogs were first introduced into the RAAF during 1943 when asset security was provided by “untrained and extremely savage dogs which were placed loose inside warehouses and compounds, tied to aircraft or fixed to long lines so they could run back and forth along a fence line.” (Duckworth, 2009, pp.156).
It would be over ten years before the RAAF would finally introduce trained patrol dogs and appropriately trained ‘K9’ handlers. On 26 August 1954 the RAAF formed the Police Dog Training Centre at No.1 Central Reserve located at RAAF Albury in New South Wales (NSW) (Duckworth, 2009).
The first Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Police Dog sections were introduced in 1977, and became fully operational in 1978. It should be noted, that units of the Australian Army were using patrol and tracker dogs, as far back as the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, and in Borneo. During this time period, dog training was conducted by members of the British Army’s Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) and Special Air Service (SAS) units.
In 1967, as part of the Vietnam War effort, the Australian Army provided two units of tracker dogs that had been trained by the Tracking Wing in 1966. The Tracking Wing was a sub-unit of the School of Infantry which was subsequently closed by the government when Australia’s involvement in Vietnam ended.
Breeds used by the RAAF include the German Shepherds and mixes, and Labs, although the RAAF are moving towards replacing the German Shepherds, with the shorter hair Belgian Shepherd, who is considered better able to handle the extreme temperatures at some air bases and installations.
The ADF uses more military working dogs today than at any time in its history!
The role SOMWDs is to provide specialised canine capabilities in support of special operations. This overarching role is achieved through four sub-roles:
- Detection: explosive or narcotics detection.
- Tracking: primarily of adversary movements in an area of operations.
- Early warning: of adversary positions.
- Asset and Personnel Protection: the psychological effects of dogs on adversaries.
SOMWDs provide SOCOMD with specialist sensory, detection and protection capabilities to counter numerous threats across a range of environments, both domestically and overseas. This is achieved through highly trained Military Working Dog and handler teams.
5.0 Recruitment and Selection
Dogs provide a sense of smell and hearing far superior to that of a human, are obedient and responsive when well-trained, and can operate effectively for extended periods.
SOMWDs are a variety of breeds and ages, and are sourced directly from breeders or animal rescue organisations. Mixed breed dogs have shown to be just as effective in explosive detection as pure bred dogs. However, some roles do require dogs to be fit for purpose and suitable for employment in specific operational environments.
When selecting SOMWDs, experienced dog trainers select certain traits and tendencies that will ensure the dogs are optimised for particular roles, rather than selection based on particular breeds, age or sex.
Selected dogs are then trialled for various roles within SOCOMD, and if successful are posted into SOCOMD units for training and employment.
SOMWDs form a very close relationship with their designated handler, and indeed with all members of the units they are posted to, and are regarded as an integral component of their respective units.
The RAAFs basic preparation and dog training course is 4-months and is delivered by the RAAF Security and Fire School, located at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland. The School is also responsible for training all service dogs across the ADF-spectrum.
6.1 Useful Links
- Aussie War Dogs by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) George Hulse, Royal Australian Engineers: http://www.aussiewardogs.org/page/Combat%20Profiles%20by%20Country
- Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dogs: http://aussietrackers.org/
- Devil and Quake make the ultimate sacrifice, two Belgian Shepherds attached to the Special Air Service Regiment: http://www.youngdiggers.com.au/devil
- RAAF MWD: https://www.facebook.com/RAAF.MWD
- Combat Support Capability: http://www.airforce.gov.au/Technology/Combat_Support_Capability/Military_Working_Dogs/?RAAF-cW6sWLIlexAaxFuK+knX8rhpHBcC0DCO
Duckworth, J. (2009) Not Every Dog Has His Day: The Treatment of Dogs in Australia. Rosanna, Victoria: Axiom Creative Enterprises.