Book Review: US Military’s Dog Training Handbook

Dogs are commonly discussed as being a part of various preppers’ preparedness plans, but those discussions are typically centered on whether you’re better to have a dog or not; and if you have a dog, which dog is the best for survival. Less commonly discussed is how to actually use that dog in a survival situation; and ultimately, how to train it.

By Rangerman, contributing author to SHTFblog and Survival Cache

Dogs in Survival Situations

It should be no surprise to anyone that dogs have many uses, particularly in survival situations. Soldiers have known their value since ancient times. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used dogs in warfare. Dogs were trained in combat, as scouts, guards, and as trackers.

In ancient times, dogs, often a large mastiff, would be strapped with armor or spiked collars and sent into battle to attack the enemy. They were (and are) also commonly used for search and rescue duties. Intimidation is another use, and – of course – therapy. The latter is becoming increasingly popular – therapy dogs. And after the apocalypse hits, everyone will need some therapy.

Dogs and Prepper Fiction

Dogs have long had a place in prepper fiction. Think of the post-apocalyptic movies with a dog as a prominent character. Mad Max had his Australian Cattle Dog in Road Warrior. Will Smith, playing Dr. Neville in I Am Legend, had Abbey, his German Shepherd who was both a loyal companion and defender. Hell, there was even the odd 1975 post-apocalyptic classic A Boy and His Dog where the dog was one of two main characters. You even get a dog, Dogmeat, in the popular video game Fallout 4. It’s clear that the idea of surviving the apocalypse with your dog at your side is widely shared.

Training Your Post-Apocalyptic Pooch

So, assuming you’re in the “have a dog” camp, how do you actually train that dog so it can best assist you in a survival situation? Teaching your dog to “stay,” or “beg,” or even bark at strangers are pretty easy tasks that don’t require much know-how on the part of the trainer. But when you start getting into more advanced security-type training, that’s when the trainer needs training. Where better to look for that training than from the U.S. Military Working Dog (MWD) Program?

Military Working Dog Program

Senior Airman Cullen Thomas, 824th Expeditionary Base Defense Squadron military working dog handler, and his military working dog Klepa perform a perimeter check at Nigérien Air Base 201, Niger, Dec. 9, 2018. The military working dog section plays a critical role in keeping service members safe and base assets secure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Asselta)

The U.S. military has a distinct and critical dog training program for their K-9 comrades. An Army.mil article states:

“They make this job look easy. But make no mistake, without extensive and continuous training, the Army wouldn’t have any military working dogs.

Many consider the dog-handler profession to be an art form as there are so many nuances that the human must be able to interpret. Indeed, not just anyone can step in and perform the job. The hours are long, and the missions require the kind of autonomy that not everyone is mature enough to handle. Then, there are the dogs, which have distinct personalities just like humans do.”

This Military Working Dog Program comes with its own manual, of course – the U.S. Military’s Dog Training Handbook. This is a paperback version of the United States Air Force Working Dog Program Manual (31-219), and short of actually going to school for training, this is about the best information you’ll find on the subject.

The Good

You can find countless books on how to train your dog, but this one is unique in that it is specific to combat-related training. For preppers, this is the type of training you are most likely to want for collapse and post-collapse skills you want your K9 to have. The reader will gain knowledge on the different types of conditioning and behavior modification. There is a chapter on patrol dog training that covers obedience commands, agitation, tracking, building search, etc. You can learn how to use decoys, rewards, address learning curves, and more.

The book has training for you, too. More than just knowing how to train your dog, the book has an entire chapter devoted to veterinary skills. It’s not as complete as the U.S. Army’s Guide to Veterinary Care of Military Working Dogs, but it does cover the basics: performing a physical exam of your dog; first aid for a bleeding wound, heat injury, abdominal wounds, etc.; how to induce vomiting; applying bandages; first aid kits; and more.

The Bad

Staff Sgt. Victoria Dames, a 35th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, carries MWD Elvis during the second annual security forces advanced combat skills assessment at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, June 6, 2017. The Defenders Challenge provided Airmen with invaluable interaction with other security forces members by exchanging tactics and skills between those in attendance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis)

Military manuals are not always written in the most reader-friendly manner. They are dense and often reference various military programs and use unique acronyms. Short of a book like the US Army Survival Guide, which assumes you are trying to survive on your own, military manuals are also written in the context of a large support system. This book is no exception. For example, the book describes how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a dog (good to know), but also describes the administration of subcutaneous fluids. That’s great if you have a medic in your party, but for the post-collapse dog owner, only if you have access to such medical equipment.

The book could have used more diagrams and instructional photos. These aren’t entirely necessary for most topics discussed, but they would help in some instances. Prepper Press did add several photos (that are not in the original version of the book) to break up the content, but they are images of military working dogs in action, not on the actual instructional content of the book.

The Verdict

This book can’t be all things to all people, and while I don’t care for the few pages devoted to things like completing administrative records, the book does cover important training know-how for serious dog owners who see their dog as an integral part of their preparedness plans. But the reality is that dog owners see their pet as being more than just a part of one’s preparedness plans. They’re not water purifiers or portable generators. Dogs become part of the family, and dog owners see them as such. This makes giving them proper training more than just an act of self-preservation or preparedness.

Dog owners put considerable time and money into their pets. From that perspective alone, the book is well worth the purchase price when compared to the years’ worth of dog food and veterinary bills you’ll inevitably incur.