Can Dogs Live on Military Bases?

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Introduction

The military life offers both opportunities and challenges to families. There is the chance to live in new places around the nation and world, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures. There is also the change that comes with frequent moves and separations from military moms and dads. Some might believe that a dog will bring security and comfort to a spouse and children who are experiencing the many adjustments that come with military life. 

Before you go out and get that dog for your loved ones, pause to review the restrictions on dog breeds that are allowed as you consider housing and pet care options.

Signs a Dog Will Do Well on a Military Base

When you are living in any community, but especially a military setting, it will be important to own a dog that is healthy with a sociable temperament and good behavior. Just as you may see someone and instantly form an impression as to whether or not they are friendly, the same can be true with dogs, as well. 

There are signs to watch for that will signal if the animal will be approachable and friendly or not. You will want to learn these signs for your safety and for that of your family members. Take the time to teach your children how to approach dogs and how to look for signs of sociability in dogs they may encounter in the community.

You will want to check the dog's eyes, mouth, ears, tail, and body posture to tell if the animal is calm and happy. Starting with the eyes, a happy and social dog will look at you with relaxed eyes and eyelids. Dogs may raise the left eyebrow when they see someone they like. Narrowed eyes may be a sign of aggression. You will see the mouth relaxed and open, with the tongue hanging loose. The dog may even appear to be smiling. The ears will be relaxed. 

The calm and social dog will appear relaxed in physical posture, as well. A wagging tail can mean many things. If the tail is wagging to the right and down, this is a dog that is more approachable than a tail that is wagging to the right and upright. If the dog is feeling frisky, you might get an invitation to play with a play bow, and you'll see the dog dancing about in a friendly invitation for a romp.

Just as there are signs of a social and happy dog, there are signs to watch for to determine if a dog has the potential to be aggressive. The aggressive dog will have eyes that are narrow and focused. You will see the dog looking aroused and alert with a forward pose. The dog will have ears that are pinned back. The teeth may be exposed and the lips may be curled back. The dog may bark or growl, giving a vocal warning. 

You will also find that these dogs are dominant. They nudge and push others around, and this includes both other dogs and people. The aggressive dog can be fearful and unpredictable, seeming still and then lurching into an attack without warning. It is important to be a good observer of a dog's behavior and temperament, especially when encountering an animal you have not previously met.

Body Language

Signs that indicate a dog is friendly are:
  • Wag tail
  • Dropped Ears
  • Tongue hanging
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Signs that indicate a dog is aggressive are:
  • Narrowed eyes
  • Appearing alert and aroused, posed forward and on the toes
  • Exposing their teeth and curling their lip
  • Growling or barking

Restrictions for Dogs on Military Bases

The military houses not just the men and women who serve, but their spouses, children, and pets. In 2012, the military issued restrictions on the types of animals allowed to live on military bases. These general restrictions apply across bases. 

If you are moving to a specific installation, it will still be your responsibility to check for any requirements that are unique to that site and to also understand the rules of the state or country regarding health regulations when moving an animal into the state. The military has placed restrictions on the following dog breeds because it is believed that these are potentially aggressive animals. The list includes:

  • Pit Bulls (American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers)
  • Rottweilers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Chow Chows
  • Wolf Hybrids

If the dog was owned before the restriction went into effect, the family is supposed to be able to keep the pet.

There are a number of organizations that are opposed to dog breed bans. These include the ASPCA, the American Humane Society, and the Best Friends Animal Society.  However, the military has privatized the management of military housing and has set out to establish policies that are consistent across locations to lessen confusion and frustration for families when they are required to move.  

The Science of Dogs Living on a Military Base

If your dog is not on the restricted list, you may have up to two dogs. You may also keep up to two cats, caged animals (like hamsters or birds), and aquarium pets (like turtles and fish). That's it. You may not have a goat, pot-bellied pig, hedgehog, skunk, rat, snake, spider, or raccoon as a pet. It has been reported that about 75 percent of families live off base, so these rules may not be a problem for most military families. 

If you do have up to two dogs who are not on the list, there are additional things you will need to know to follow rules. First, it is considered to be an offense if you lie about your pets. Minor offenses are those in which you have more than two dogs or cats. Moderate offenses occur if you have restricted animals and are trying to use the "grandfathered in" or service animal loophole to keep the animal, non-legitimately. Major offenses occur if you have reptiles or are boarding animals on the military grounds. 

You will be moving with a pet and different states will have policies for your dog to have rabies vaccinations. Some states, like Hawaii, may have quarantine requirements for animals coming into their state. You will likely need a health certificate from the veterinarian when traveling, especially if you are moving out of the country.  Your pet will most likely need to be neutered or spayed and have the proper documentation, plus health certificates for moves.

If you are single and deployed, you may need to find arrangements for the care of your pet while you are away. If you do not have family who will take your dog, there are nonprofit foster organizations who will care for your pet while you are gone. Organizations that care for military pets include Dogs on Deployment and Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet. 

Teaching Others to Approach Your Dog

Regardless of breed, most dog bites are provoked, and children are more likely to be bitten than adults. Many children do not know how to approach a dog. They run up to the dog directly and will try to hug the animal. Some children will think they are playing with a dog when they are actually causing the animal to feel irritated and frightened.  

If you are living within a community or family of children, help them to stay safe and your dog to feel confident by teaching others how to approach your dog.

1. Teach children to walk and to move calmly around dogs. Dogs will get excited by swiftly moving animals and little people.

2. If the dog does not look calm and relaxed, then stay away from the animal. Leave it alone. Even if the dog is happy, romping and playful, the dog may still knock the child over or move in a way that is intimidating to the child. 

3. Keep your distance and ask the owner if you may approach or touch the animal. 

4. Move slowly and facing the dog. Do not run up behind the dog and startle the animal.

5. Hold your hand out with the palm facing up. This looks friendly to the dog and resembles how the owner will hold a treat.

6. Do not pet the dog on top of the head. Instead, pet the dog's chin. This is less threatening to the dog.

7. Pet away from the mouth. Start at the chin and then stroke the dog with the hand moving back, to the neck, ears, and body.

8. Keep your face away from the dog. 

Animals and children should always be supervised. Keep your dog on a leash when out of the house so that you have better control of the situation. Enjoy sharing the love of the dog with others!

Safety Tips for Keeping Dogs Healthy:

  • Maintain vaccinations routine.
  • Feed your dog a balanced diet.
  • Make arrangements for your dog to have regular exercise.
  • License or register your dog in accordance with local regulations.
  • Check before you go - contact a veterinarian, consulate, or person in charge to know the rules.
  • Get help - if your family can't help, there are organizations that may.