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Senior Airman Stephen Hanks, a dog handler with the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, and Geri, a patrol and explosive-detector dog, look through a window while securing an abandoned building on a routine patrol on Sather Air Base in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. John Mariana looked down into the reassuring eyes of one of the most valuable comrades of his eight-month deployment to Afghanistan: Bronco, his military working dog. The vastly superior sensory powers of dogs make them extraordinarily useful in combat.

dogs in combat theaters have been almost exclusively devoted to sniffing out improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Justin Kitts and his canine partner, Dyngo, take a break in the shade while they compete in the K-9 trials hosted at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, May 2012. Doc, an IED-detection dog with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, retrieves a bumper during a training session at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, March 19, 2013. Bronco kept his head low, sniffing for buried explosives. Mariana saw a man just 10 feet away, pointing an AK-47 at them. Mariana shouted, and Bronco bolted toward the attacker, biting down hard. The ancient Egyptians used dogs to carry messages, the Corinthians surrounded their seashore citadel with guard dogs, and the Romans used dogs to raise alarms for their garrisons. During the Civil War, according to an 1862 article in Harper’s Weekly, a dog named Union Jack ran toward a spray of shells, barking as if he were chasing down the Confederate artillery. This foreshadowed an unfortunate pattern—recognizing the combat value of dogs once a conflict erupts, only to forget their utility as it winds down. has never truly maintained its canine combat readiness—a mistake we may be repeating today. The working dogs’ keen senses help them search for IEDs and track down the insurgents who make them. For centuries, dogs have been saving soldiers’ lives on battlefields. battlefields during the Revolutionary War, though often as pets and mascots. military didn’t officially add dogs to its ranks until World War II. troops in southern Afghanistan in 2010, Dyngo alerted the besieged American soldiers to two nearby IEDS that they could have set off, with lethal consequences. John Peeler and his combat tracker dog, Lex, have some down time between training drills at the Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 at the Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., in March 2012. Trevor Smith, a Marine combat tracker dog handler, taunts Grek, a military working dog, who snarls back. Mariana told me a year later—and joined a long line of canine heroes.Most dogs can hear sounds from up to four times farther away than humans can. dogs in combat theaters have been almost exclusively devoted to sniffing out improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Michael Oates, director of the special Pentagon office created to counter the threat of IEDs, told a news conference that, after spending billion on high-tech innovations from hand-held sensors to enhanced optics, the best weapon against IEDs was still a handler and his dog. Justin Kitts and some 20 other members of the 101st Airborne Division were ambushed in southern Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents. Kitts recalled, his dog, Dyngo, alerted the troops to not one but two IEDs.Dogs can also see much better than we can in low light and darkness, and most have a much wider field of vision. Air Force, the average military working dog—generally a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, two of which recently brought down a would-be intruder at the White House—can deliver a bite that produces 400 pounds of pressure per square inch or more. The average human has around 5 million scent receptors; the average dog has roughly 220 million. From 1997 to 2000, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency spent .4 million on a “Dog’s Nose Program” to develop similarly sensitive chemical sensors, agency officials say. Without Dyngo, he said, they would have run from Taliban gunfire directly into one of those bombs—each of which was powerful enough to kill them all.It’s pleasing when the world finds a new use for something old and familiar.

Pie pans gave birth to Frisbees; botulinum toxin, once known mostly for poisoning people, is now better known as Botox and gets rid of wrinkles.

And Lady Gaga has taught the world how to use a large silver lobster as a hat.

Our four-legged friends have other advantages, too. (By way of comparison, a lion or shark bite packs roughly 600 pounds of pressure.) But the most important canine military asset in recent U. Given the choice between a high-tech sensor and a dog, a number of U. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan told me that they would certainly choose man’s best friend.

Dogs offer their fellow soldiers not just keen noses but also warm hearts.

This may be why no robot or hand-held sensor will ever replace dogs in combat: A dog tugging at the leash to alert soldiers to the presence of explosives is doing so, at least in part, because of its devotion to the human at the other end. Mariana told me last year that his success as a handler depended on his bond with Bronco, who retired later in 2011 and died of cancer the next year. Frankel is a senior editor at Foreign Policy and the author of “War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love,” recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.

“He worked for me because he loved me, and I loved him,” Sgt.

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