Titanium Fangs? The Technology Behind Navy SEAL Dogs

Belgian malinois standing next to soldier in uniform

labsas / Getty Images

Dogs benefit humans in so many ways. Not only do they provide us unconditional love and companionship, they also lend their eyes to the blind and their trusty noses to law enforcement. They even go into combat for us. In 2011, one named Cairo played an integral role in the historic Navy SEAL-led takedown of Osama bin Laden, earning the unofficial title of "nation's most courageous dog."

Today, there are about 1,600 military working dogs "with missions spanning land, air, and sea," the U.S. Department of Defense says. Common "war dog" breeds include Belgian malinois (like Cairo), Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds, although Belgian malinois is the only one the U.S. Department of Defense's Military Working Dog Breeding Program breeds.

These dogs endure a lot, what with the training and being constantly loaded with high-tech equipment, but those working for the Navy have a trait that not many other Special Operations Forces K9s have: titanium teeth.

From teeth implants to wireless cameras, here is a run-down of the most common tools and tactics used to turn man's best friend into a bonafide U.S. Navy SEAL.

K9 Boot Camp

To start, military working dogs go through a 120-day training program in which they learn how to detect explosives and drugs. Some are even taught to sniff out an enemy from up to two miles away. At this camp, the dogs learn to trust their handlers wholeheartedly and to defend them in the event of an attack. They're put through swimming tests, sound conditioning, obstacle courses, and mission simulations. In the end, only 1% of candidates make the cut.

Titanium Teeth

Military working dog biting person in protection suit

Studia72 / Getty Images

Contrary to the beliefs of yesteryear, the Navy does not simply rip out their working dogs' teeth for the sake of creating metal-mouthed war machines. Titanium, a famously tough material whose tensile strength-to-density ratio is higher than any other natural metal, is used only to replace injured or broken teeth.

War dogs (and police dogs) are trained to bite—and a lot of times, this leads to breakage. Replacing injured teeth with titanium (at an estimated cost of $600 to $2,000 per tooth) is one way to help a dog continue its service.

Generally, the canine teeth, which are the four longest and most prominent in a dog's mouth, are the most commonly replaced with titanium because they allow the animal to grip and tear through material (including body armor) without injury to itself. However, trainers try to avoid breakage at all costs—not just because titanium replacement fangs are priced at a fortune, but also because they aren't as stable as regular teeth, making them likely to fall out during an attack.

In terms of visuals, many agree that the false fangs do enhance the fear factor of war dogs.

Tactical Body Armor

Military working dog lying next to protective gear

Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Yes, even dogs get body armor. Nobody wants their working dog to get stabbed or shot in the line of duty. So, these adjustable, lightweight suits are used to protect the dog's vital organs. They come in an array of models depending on the dog's job. The "assault vest," for instance, defeats a combination of ballistic and ice-pick threats.

There are also many colors to choose from.

In 2009, during the Iraq war, the U.S. Navy reportedly purchased four waterproof Canine Tactical Assault Suits from the Canadian firm K9 Storm for a reported $86,000. CNN reported that the company made $5 million a year selling custom armor for dogs in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Special Forces; plus police departments and security firms worldwide.

Wireless Cameras and Radio Communications

In conjunction with the tactical armor, military dogs also commonly now carry infrared and night vision wireless cameras to relay visuals from as far as 1,000 yards away. Some sites have even reported that an "intruder communication system" able to see through concrete walls is included. The tactical suits often have speakers so that handlers can relay commands remotely.

View Article Sources
  1. "Four-Legged Fighters." U.S. Department of Defense.