As the details about the assault that killed Osama bin Laden become more available we are finding some surprises. For example, according to the New York Times, four helicopters, 79 commandos, and one dog were involved in the action. As is the case for the rest of the SEAL team involved in the action, few details about the dog are available but there are lots of speculations.
Of the 79 Seals who arrived at bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, only two dozen of those soldiers slid down the ropes. Apparently, a Military Working Dog was one of them. It was strapped onto an assault team member as he was lowered out of a Black Hawk helicopter.
The military is refusing to identify the dog and they won't even tell us the breed or sex of the dog. However bits of information are coming out which allow us to make some educated assumptions about the dog's skills and its role in the mission.
A spokesman for United States Special Operations Command, identified as a Major Ticer, provided some general information. He said, "The primary functions of the dogs are finding explosives and conducting searches and patrols. Dogs are relied upon to provide early warning for potential hazards, many times, saving the lives of the Special Operations Forces with whom they operate." He went on to say that the dog's identity will remain anonymous, like the rest of the Navy Seals involved in the attack, citing the need to keep operational secrets from falling into the wrong hands. He did admit that the dog was most likely a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois.
Maj. William Roberts, commander of the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base (where most US military dogs are trained), said the dog who went along on the raid might have been brought in to check the compound for explosives, sniff door handles to see if they were booby-trapped, or search for secret rooms in bin Laden's compound. There are also specially trained "combat trackers" who target and track specific individuals. It is believed that such dogs were used in the capture of Saddam Hussein and in the killing of the Iraqi dictator's two sons. Saddam Hussein would have been difficult to find by a human being, since he was hiding in a dark hole beneath a shack in Iraq.
SEAL teams have often used dogs in the past on raids. Like their human comrades, these commando dogs are often equipped with infrared night vision cameras. They also wear ballistic body armor which is supposed to withstand damage from knives, shrapnel and gunfire.
The Internet, being a hotbed for rumors, followed the initial reports of the presence of the dog on the seal team with a series of claims that this dog was an attack dog that had been specially fitted out with titanium teeth to allow him to rip into terrorists more efficiently. This is a marvelous example of how tiny bits of information can be spun into elaborate fairytales. Military Working Dogs are trained to bite, and sometimes those bites can lead to broken teeth. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, the most common crown is cast metal, titanium, or stainless steel. This crown material is the strongest available and requires the fewest removals. Titanium is the crown material of choice when strength is more important than aesthetics. Replacing injured teeth with titanium is expensive, costing up to $2000 a tooth, however the military views it as similar to medical procedures used to patch up human soldiers who've been wounded, in order to allow them to continue their service. The idea of ripping out a dogs teeth in order to replace them with metal fangs is silly, according to experts, since nothing beats the real tooth for stability and strength. There is always the possibility that the titanium fangs may come out during a biting incident, just like prosthetic dentures in humans. Furthermore, we have no evidence describing any aspect of the dog, let alone its dental history. Based on the information available it is likely that the titanium fanged killer black-ops dog being talked about on the web is just another one of those myths.
I watched the video films of the raid on bin Laden's compound, and could not find any evidence of a dog being present. An attack dog would have been up front where the action was going on, so it is likely that we are dealing with a search dog, or a dog trained to detect explosives, and other booby-traps.
In the same way that we offer thanks to the 79 unknown two legged commandos involved in this action against the world's most wanted terrorist, I hope that someone gives this four-legged soldier a thank you pat from all of us as well.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome
Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission