Inside the World of a Military Dog Contractor

What does it take to get a dog ready for Army life?

Army dog on a leash
The process of getting a dog ready for military life is more complex than you might think.
The US Army

In the last few months, military dogs have been in the news in a big way. But besides the general likability of dogs, there’s another question that can arise when seeing footage of dogs accompanying troops in different situations. Namely: how exactly do the dogs get there? Is there a dog boot camp, with the canine equivalent of R. Lee Ermey (literally) barking out orders?

Now, a new article at GEN from Jake Bittle sheds some light on how dogs get ready for the military. And — interestingly enough — it’s a fairly profitable endeavor for those who do it well. At the center of Bittle’s article is a Louisiana man named James Lyle with a normal-sounding life and an unexpected occupation: “[Lyle] has earned around $3.2 million over the last decade selling more than a thousand combat dogs to the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security.”

According to the article, Lyle’s dogs represent 5% to 20% of the dogs purchased each year by these agencies. It also notes that he brings a lot of experience to his work: he began training dogs at the age of 15, and later worked in the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office for the better part of a decade.

Much of Lyle’s business, Bittle writes, involves training dogs that he’s purchased elsewhere:

He buys German shepherds and Belgian Malinois from European breeders overseas and spends a few months training them to detect and locate drugs, explosives, and people. He then drives them to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio or a Department of Homeland Security facility in El Paso to sell them for a net profit of as much as $10,000 per dog.

The training process can take up to a few months, and Lyle generally has dozens of dogs on his property at a given time — which can require a ton or more of dog food each month. It’s an unconventional process, but it’s one that seems to have worked well for trainer, dogs and military alike.

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