Posted 42d ago
By Tilly Alexander
Are ex-military working dogs better behaved? Do they make superior guard dogs? How does the experience differ from having a regular old pet dog?
Whether you’re looking to rehome a ‘MWD’ (military working dog) or not, you may well have some questions about what life is like with one.
From the process of rehoming an MWD to what funny quirks they have, TeamDogs has spoken to four people with ex-active service dogs to find out everything you might want to know.
Spoiler: not all the owners were in the military, and the dogs don’t always behave as you may expect!
Here’s what life is like with an ex-military working dog, according to four people who have one.
Michael Golden on ex-protection dog Chilli
Adorable ex-active service dog Chilli is a big fan of tennis balls (Image: INSTAGRAM/chilli_retired_mwd)
Michael (‘Mike’) Golden and his wife rehomed Dutch Herder Chilli from Hero Paws in 2019, having lost their previous dog to a muscle disorder about three years prior.
The couple, who live in Stoke-On-Trent, had owned German Shepherd Dogs before, so knew they wanted a large breed.
A combination of seeing military dogs on Facebook and Mike being ex-Royal Navy led them to their decision to rehome a retired ‘MWD’ from Hero Paws.
The pair were soon informed that a former protection dog was coming up to retirement, and after asking a few questions, quickly agreed.
Mike said: “I was told that he had a great temperament and that he just didn’t want to work anymore, which sounded a lot like me, so we arranged to go to St George’s Barracks to meet with Chilli.
“We arrived at the Barracks and were met by one of the handlers and took Chilli for a walk, threw a few balls and just tried to get to know him. He was very gentle but all he was interested in was ball throwing and running around.”
“We informed the Army that we would like to rehome him and from there it was a waiting game whilst the paperwork and contract was sorted out.”
Chilli, who is now eight years old, also needed to have a ‘thorough MOT’ to ensure he was fit and well.
Chilli cuddling up to owner Mike (Image: Instagram/chilli_retired_mwd)
The paperwork was filed at the end of August 2019 and the Goldens welcomed Chili into his new home at the start of November. However, his one-month trial with the household went well and he’s been there ever since!
According to Mike, the ex-MWD was initially taken aback by the TV, though – likely because he’d never seen one during his service. He explained: “He didn’t know what to make of them and wouldn’t go near them for ages.
“The same happened with the washing machine and dishwasher – if these were on he wouldn’t go into that room. And even now after nearly two years he still likes someone to come into the kitchen so he can eat and have a drink.
“Where a normal dog will grow up with the sounds within a home, it is very different for an ex-MWD as it takes them well out of their comfort zone.”
In fact, despite his previous role as a protection dog, Chilli ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’.
He’s also not quite the personal guard dog you might expect. “He is quite a nervous dog. Without knowing what he has had to do in the Army, I believe he has some form of PTSD as he doesn’t like unfamiliar sounds and lays under the table when something is happening that he doesn’t like,” explained Mike.
“When we asked the Army for his service history they informed me that this was secret and would not tell me, however, I have found out that he has served in Kenya, Bosnia and also Scandinavia.”
He added: “If someone comes to the door he doesn’t bark, sometimes he doesn’t wake up.”
Though “well very trained”, the former serving pup can also be “stubborn” at times.
However, the lovely boy has clearly been enjoying his post-service life, spending much of his time chasing balls and goofing around in the fields near to the Goldens’ house - so much so that he’s developed a reputation as “the dog who is never without a tennis ball”.
Mike commented: “He can sniff out a tennis ball in the undergrowth from about 50 yards away. His record for finding these and putting them all in his mouth at one time is four.”
Like many non-MWDs, Chilli also has a habit of thinking all balls are meant for him, “no matter how far away”.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times we have had to apologise to people and give the ball back,” said Mike, adding: “Anyone who would like to rehome a MWD must have a lot of patience and time to ensure that the dog is happy and given plenty of exercise.”
As Chilli and Mike both served in active service, the pair have also attended a number of Remembrance Day services together, with the former wearing his veteran’s badges on his harness!
The Goldens set up an Instagram page to keep Chilli’s ex-handler updated on his life – find it at @chilli_retired_MWD.
Serene Hayes on ex-protection dog Joe
Joe formerly served as a protection dog but very much has a soft side (Image: INSTAGRAM/joethemalinois)
Cornwall resident Serene Hayes rehomed Belgian Malinois Joe in October 2019, having known of him for some time.
Her partner, whose name and branch of service cannot be disclosed due to the nature of his job, actually first met and fell in love with the lovely active service dog through an exercise with work.
She explained: “He kept in touch with his handler, and then his next handler – and when we were told Joe was coming up for retirement I went to meet him at North Luffenham and fell in love with him too.”
With the British Army since he was a 12-week-old puppy, Joe had previously worked as a protection dog in Cyprus and Germany, as well as the UK. He is also search-trained, though Serene believes he never performed this role officially.
Joe, who is turning nine this year, was “retired” just before his seventh birthday.
So, how does it differ from having a dog that’s never been in service? Serene explained: “We’ve been quite surprised at how well Joe has taken to being a pet dog – he’s incredibly affectionate and always wants cuddles, which we hadn’t expected from a MWD.
“He’s very loyal, and although he has settled as a pet so well you can tell he is still always alert!
“Joe is obviously very well trained, and does as he is commanded, but he does have some very naughty streaks.
“He is a nightmare for stealthily stealing food off the side, and he also has a bit of a cushion addiction, so we have to always be on guard with soft furnishings.”
Joe’s favourite hobbies now that he’s no longer serving include visits to the beach and naps on the sofa (Image: INSTAGRAM/joethemalinois)
Speaking about rehoming an MWD, she added: “It’s been the best experience for us, and we’d rehome another MWD in a heartbeat.
“I’ve never known a dog with as much character as Joe, and to give him the retirement he deserves is the best feeling.”
Serene has also since launched Joe’s Java Coffee.
She explained: “When we rehomed Joe we wanted to do something to help other dogs like him, and we especially wanted to support Hero Paws.
“We came up with the idea of combining our love of high quality coffee with helping dogs find their forever home.
“10 per cent of our profits are donated to Hero Paws to support them on their mission of re-homing MWD’s.”
The gorgeous ex-MWD also has his very own Instagram, @joethemalinois – which jokingly describes him as the “CEO” of Joe’s Java Coffee in its bio.
Sascha Moses on ex-tracking dog Puma and ex-patrol dog Rex
Ex-patrol dog Rex (Image: INSTAGRAM/rmwd_rex)
Sascha Moses has had two retired military working dogs so far, so is well-versed in the ins and outs of rehoming one.
Her first, a black German Shepherd called Puma, was formerly a tracking dog. Adopted by Sascha when she worked in Germany as the health and safety advisor for the British Army, she’s actually the reason that Sascha and her husband Danny got together!
The pair’s current dog, Belgian Malinois Rex, meanwhile, is an ex-patrol dog who was retired when he “didn’t want to bite anymore”.
She told TeamDogs: “I’ve had military working dogs and adopted dogs from the animal shelter and I don’t think you can compare the two – it’s two completely separate things.
“One is like buying a car: you put in all your comforts – adjust the seat, put in an air freshener, plug your destination into the Sat Nav – and off you go.
“The other is like buying a race car and trying to convince it to be your daily driver. You can put in all your comforts and even put a different shell on the top but at the end of the day it’s still a race car when you come to the engine.”
“That isn’t to say the retired military dogs aren’t companions, they definitely are! But they are the companions that will always have a deeper drive than just human companionship.”
Ex-tracking dog Puma, who has sadly passed away, “loved anyone in uniform” (Image: Sascha Mose)
According to Sascha, the first weeks are the hardest for the MWDs and their new owners. Ex-military dogs often live in kennels prior to their rehoming, so generally aren’t used to sharing space with people, or even being in a house.
This means that some pups require lessons in housebreaking, as well as manners!
“They have none,” joked Sascha. “Life in kennels means they don’t necessarily have nice things and can take out frustration on blankets without upsetting anyone. You, however, will probably have a bit of a heart attack when you see the amount of stuffing and mess that one bed can produce!”
The two biggest challenges for newly rehomed MWDs, though, are adjusting to a new routine and learning the “art of relaxation”.
As they’re not used to sleeping alongside humans, they often don’t sleep much during the first few months.
Sascha added: “They also are at this point more or less robots. They aren’t used to just ‘chilling’ on the couch for a bit of TV, so they are a bit excited and on edge until they get used to the routine.
It’s also not uncommon for them to “jump on counters and try to steal food”, according to Sascha.
From cats and hedgehogs to hot pans on the stove, you’ll likely also have to introduce them to a lot of new things. She said: “They will entertain you for hours pawing at the most random things because they’ve never encountered it and have no idea what to do with it.
“Puma was very confused by firewood. Rex is scared of hedgehogs and will willingly give up treats to avoid the area of the garden where the spikey danger mouse is likely to be encountered.”
There’s also a few other quirks likely to linger from their training. Sascha joked: “If your dog was trained with Kongs, you can expect that they will spend the entirety of the first few months avoiding giving it back to you, especially once they’ve figured out you’re not their military handler.”
Sascha also explained to TeamDogs that bigger MWDs tend to be harder for the military to place since they have lots of needs – including a lot of exercise to get rid of all their energy, a fenced yard and no small children around.
Find Rex on Instagram at @RMWD_Rex
Victoria Trafford on ex-MWD Pino
Victoria (‘Tori’) Trafford and partner Shane’s first experience of an ex-MWD was when a friend brought along their own to visit.
The two “fell in love” with him and immediately started looking online. The pair had soon filed an application with Hero Paws, who then sent details and images of Pino.
Despite having previously had ex-Police dogs, Tori was a “little nervous” meeting the Belgian Malinois.
Speaking about her visit to his kennels, she said: “I stood back as he was released from his kennel and waited to see if he approached me – I didn’t want to intrude in his space as he had never met me before. Plus I didn’t want to upset him knowing he was a dual purpose role and essentially a weapon.”
However, Pino had soon wandered over to rest his head on Tori’s leg, giving her “the biggest goofiest grin on the planet.”
After a walk and some playtime and obedience work together, Tori walked away determined to give Pino a lovely home and immediately rang Shane to say they would be collecting him in two weeks.
She said: “Pino has a lovely temperament and has fitted into our hybrid family so well.
“He is such a happy boy, always with a big waggy tail and a goofy grin. After a long day’s work he’s a delight to come home to or even take to work.
“Even though he’s 11 years old and did nearly 10 years of active service he’s very active.”
She added: “He’s very recognisable on walks as he loves to carry his Kong or ball around. He also loves cuddles on the sofa – we think he may have been a Jack Russell in his former life as he comes to sit on you.
“Many a time we have cuddled up on a Sunday afternoon and he wants to be as close to you as possible snoring away.
Curious how ex-MWDs differ from ex-Police dogs? According to Tori, “like apples and apples”.
“Even though both were in active service Pino certainly has a higher drive to be active and certainly a higher prey drive,” elaborated Tori.
“I also find him very smart. We had to shut the lids on the toilets to stop him drinking out of them but he now can open the lids with his nose.
“He also knows my work routine and often has a wet nose waking me up 5 mins before my alarm.”
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