The Army extends its “Holistic Health and Fitness” program to include military working dogs, recognizing them as military athletes and prioritizing their physical and mental well-being.
In 2020, the Army introduced its “Holistic Health and Fitness” program, known as H2F, to promote the well-being of soldiers through proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mental health. Building on the success of H2F, the Army is now extending its focus on comprehensive health and wellness to include its working dogs. With approximately 500 military working dogs in conventional units, the Army aims to ensure that these four-legged soldiers receive the same level of care and attention as their human counterparts. The new program, dubbed “Canine H2F,” is set to revolutionize the way military working dogs are trained, cared for, and supported.
Canine H2F: A Comprehensive Approach to Dog Health and Wellness
The Canine H2F program is still in the development stages, but it promises to address various aspects of a military working dog’s life. Sgt. Maj. Viridiana Lavalle, the Army’s military working dog program manager, explains that the program starts with nutrition, quality of life, kennel environments, handler assignment conditions, and physical conditioning. The goal is to create military-wide standards for fitness training and mental health care for dogs, codifying routines that currently lack consistency.
Physical Training and Conditioning Beyond Work Hours
While military working dogs often get exercise through their daily work, the Canine H2F program aims to outline specific physical training beyond those hours. This will ensure that dogs receive the necessary conditioning to perform at their peak, even in demanding situations. The program will introduce treadmills in kennels and incorporate warm-up and cooldown drills to prepare and recover the dogs’ bodies for their duties.
Enhanced Quality of Life for Dogs
The Canine H2F program recognizes that a dog’s quality of life plays a vital role in their overall well-being. To improve their living conditions, the program will introduce more accommodating kennels that include nature sounds and music to help relax the dogs. Additionally, dog beds that provide mobility support, an expanded portfolio of treats and toys, and dedicated playtime and socialization with other dogs will further enhance the dogs’ quality of life.
Streamlining Handler and Dog Assignments
A key aspect of the Canine H2F program is ensuring that dogs move with their handlers when they are assigned to new installations. This change will streamline the training and certifications required for handlers when they are assigned a new dog. Currently, military working dogs can have a new handler every two to three years, which can lead to behavioral issues and a decrease in their effectiveness. By allowing handlers and dogs to stay together, the program aims to improve the dogs’ quality of life and maintain the bond between them and their handlers.
Preparing Dogs for Urban Environments
As the Army shifts its focus from insurgencies to conventional warfare, the Canine H2F program recognizes the need to prepare military working dogs for new challenges. This includes training them to work effectively in subways, sewer systems, and other subterranean features commonly found in large urban areas. These environments pose unique challenges for dogs, such as claustrophobia and sensory limitations. The program will address these hurdles to ensure that dogs can perform their security roles effectively in any situation.
The Army’s implementation of the Canine H2F program showcases its commitment to the well-being of its military working dogs. By recognizing them as military athletes and prioritizing their physical and mental health, the Army is ensuring that these loyal and dedicated companions receive the care they deserve. The program’s focus on nutrition, physical conditioning, quality of life, and streamlined handler and dog assignments will undoubtedly lead to improved performance and a higher quality of life for these indispensable members of the military. As the Army continues to evolve and adapt, the Canine H2F program exemplifies its dedication to the comprehensive care of all its soldiers, both human and canine.