Horses & Hounds: The Brave And Loyal Working Dogs Of The United States Secret Service

Published: June 16, 2019 at 07:00 am


A few years ago, I was invited to the US Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, for an event that included a former US president and the current prime minister of Japan. Also on that guest list were two very special canines, provided exclusively by the US Secret Service.

The US Ambassador’s residence in Japan serves as a significant symbol that represents 150 years of a highly valued, diplomatic relationship, and one that it is highly-guarded and regarded. It was here that General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito first met on September 27, 1945, following the Japanese surrender. The Secret Service was there to protect a former President, the current first lady, US assets, and personnel that are integral to the success of diplomacy. These highly trained canines are a constant part of that strategy.

I actually wasn’t that surprised to see the dogs at the reception, as we’d had an earlier encounter in the lobby of the Hotel Okura. It was amazing how one dog could clear an entire elevator while 30 people waited to take the “next one.” The job of these animals is to protect the President of the United States and other high-level officials deemed worthy of such protection, including former presidents.

During the course of my stay in Japan, I had the opportunity to speak with the agents, and while courteous, they were extremely guarded when asked about the dogs and their responsibilities. However, they did reveal some information that was quite interesting and worthy of sharing for this column.

The dogs of the Secret Service are among the top frequent fliers of the canine world, with more than 200 flights during the course of their careers — many being of the international variety. In presidential campaign years, Secret Service dogs rack up an average of 36 flights. These dogs help protect presidential candidates. Fortunately, the dogs are nonpartisan, so they don’t care if it’s Republican or Democrat — they do their job with the same bipartisan gusto.

Wherever the current or former presidents go, you can be sure the area has already been cleared prior to a chief executive’s arrival. Every canine has been trained to protect and serve in a variety of capacities. Secret Service canines have been used by the agency for 43 years and have served with distinction. Most of their work will never be made public due to the nature of the job.

The bond between the handler and Secret Service dog is deeply ingrained and very unique. These canines live full-time with their handlers and will retire to their homes upon completion of their service, which averages ten years. This bond, created by mutual respect and love, is paramount to making these teams strong and effective.

Every vehicle that enters the White House complex gets searched by a dog. The average Secret Service explosives detection canine searches 7,020 vehicles per year. Nearly every visitor to the White House is screened by a canine with most not realizing it is even happening. Should a Secret Service explosives detection dog alert near the White House, it has the capacity of preventing the president from leaving or re-entering the White House and can even interrupt a presidential meeting. The judgement of the dog is never questioned.

Secret Service dogs have found explosive devices, but the general public will never hear about these “finds.” The Secret Service never reveals this information due to OPSEC (operational security).

These working dogs, like most military dogs, are primarily born and raised in European countries such as the Netherlands, Israel, and the Czech Republic. Most are Belgian Malinois or German shepherd/Malinois hybrids.

As globalization meets the ever-changing modern world, the dogs of law enforcement have also risen to the occasion and have added a significant layer of protection worldwide. The demand for these canines is so great that it can be more than a year before a dog is available for service. The agents who handle these canines are well-aware that if they let their guard down, they have the capacity to change the history of the world in the blink of an eye.

It has become clear that these working dogs are vital to our national security. There is absolutely no question that these dogs should be lauded for their tireless and selfless work on our behalf. So if you find yourself passing by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or the Blair House, you may catch a glimpse of one of these teams on duty. Please be sure to take a moment and appreciate what an incredible job they’re doing — and be sure not to pet these Secret Service agents. They’re on a mission to keep our nation safe.

Margaret A. Reed, PhD, is the coauthor of the best-selling book The Dogs of Camelot, an AKC dog show judge, thoroughbred racehorse owner, principal of Canine Training and Behavior Services LLC, and she serves on the board of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, James A Baker Institute for Animal Health.

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