A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 of the Bravest Dogs in History

From rescuing swimmers to flying into space to saving countless soldiers' lives, these dogs have done some pretty incredible things.

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Brave pups

We know that our pet dog would do anything for us—but these 13 pups go above and beyond the call of duty and bravery. Read on to find out the bravest dogs out there.

conan the military dog

Military hero

When we think of military heroes, we often think of our men and women in uniform. But, in a recent military operation that resulted in the takedown of a dangerous ISIS leader, it was a dog who deserves much of our praise: Conan. During the operation with U.S. special forces in Syria, Conan chased ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi down a dead-end tunnel. Conan was injured in the process, but he’s making his way back to the United States soon where he’ll be treated to a visit at the White House.

Mature couple strolling along the beach with their dog. Rear view shot of loving mature couple on the beach with dog.
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The first best friend

In 1914, German workers discovered a grave, which scientists determined dates back 14,000 years, in which a man, a woman, and a dog were buried together, as a family unit, according to National Geographic. We don’t know the specific deeds this dog performed during his life, but scientists believe the evidence suggests that as early as 14,000 years ago, dogs played some important role in human life…to the extent that these humans shared their burial place with their beloved canine bestie. Find out about the shelter dogs who saved their owner’s lives.

Hunter with Rifle and Dog in forest

Hero dogs of the Middle Ages

Fast-forwarding about 13 and a half millennia, there’s evidence that by the Middle Ages, dogs were not only emotionally bonded to their humans but also performed specific, crucial jobs. Specifically, accounts from that time reveal that dogs were useful for hunting, delivering letters, turning well wheels, and chasing away vermin. Don’t miss these fun facts about dogs you never knew.

brave st bernards of switzerland
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The St. Bernards of Switzerland

Scientists have evidence that monks living in the snowy, dangerous St. Bernard Pass—a route through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland—kept dogs to help them rescue people after bad snowstorms. “Over a span of nearly 200 years, about 2,000 people, from lost children to Napoleon’s soldiers, were rescued because of the heroic dogs’ uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold,” Smithsonian Magazine reports.

barry st. bernard dog

Barry of Switzerland

One specific St. Bernard from Switzerland has earned his place in history for his many acts of heroism. That’s Barry, who lived in the St. Bernard Pass between 1800 to 1812. During his lifetime, he saved the lives of more than 40 people. He’s memorialized at the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland, where his body remains today. These are the smartest dogs, ranked by breed.

sgt stubby dog of WWI
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Sergeant Stubby, WWI Hero

In 1917, a stray dog wandered onto the Yale college campus where members of the military were in training to be sent abroad to fight World War I. The men named him Stubby, and he quickly became their beloved mascot. Eventually, they smuggled Stubby to the front lines in France, where he warned men of poison gas attacks and located wounded soldiers. Stubby earned the rank of sergeant for attacking a German spy, according to History.com. Check out these dog superpowers that humans don’t have.

A black Labrador Retriever is swimming in the water

Swansea Jack, the self-appointed Scottish lifeguard

Swansea Jack was a flat-coated retriever who was born in 1930 and lived near the docks of Swansea, Scotland. Whenever there were cries for help from the water, Jack would always respond. He made his first rescue when he was still a puppy, saving a 12-year-old boy. A few weeks later, he saved a swimmer from the docks. Jack may have saved as many as 27 people from drowning during his short life. He died in 1937 after accidentally eating rat poison. These are some of the things your dog wishes you knew.

Yorkshire terrier and cone

Smoky the WWII Yorkie

In 1944, an American soldier in the New Guinea jungle discovered a stray Yorkshire terrier. “Smoky,” as she was named by the soldier, became the soldier’s loyal partner and something of a World War II mascot. HuffPost reports that she spent 18 months in combat in New Guinea and the Philippines. She saved many lives by warning soldiers of incoming fire, helped string communication wires between outposts, and is considered one of the world’s first therapy dogs. These are the 8 sure signs your dog really trusts you.

laika the space dog
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Laika, the Space Dog

Laika was the first dog to orbit the Earth in a spaceship. Originally a stray, she was given a place on a rocketship intended to orbit the earth. Sadly, this was a suicide mission for Laika, Smithsonian Magazine reports. She was given only one meal and seven days’ worth of oxygen, and it was presumed to be a one-way trip into space. Laika gave her life for the Soviet space program and for mankind’s journey into the final frontier. Here are 8 more animals that changed history.

Black dog lying on the concrete floor.
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Midnight, a lifeline after Hurricane Sandy

Born in Louisiana, Midnight survived Hurricane Katrina and was brought north as a refugee and adopted by the superintendent of a Greenwich Street building in New York City, according to the New York Times. In the days after Hurricane Sandy seven years later, Midnight found a way to give back. She was one of the links in a multi-person bucket “brigade” that carried water across her neighborhood’s Washington Street to the people who were marooned without water in an apartment building there. Have the tissues handy for these stories of rescue dogs finding their forever homes.

Nemo, the hero dog of the Vietnam War

Nemo was a German Shepherd born in 1962. By the time he was two, Nemo was a member of the U.S. Air Force. In 1966, he and his human were transferred to serve in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. One night, Nemo alerted his human to the presence of enemy soldiers nearby before being shot by enemy fire. Though he lost an eye, he survived and continued fighting, hurling his body at enemy soldiers and eventually crawling on top of his human to protect him from further harm. In 1967, he returned to the United States as the first sentry dog officially retired from active service. These dog adoption photos will melt your heart.

9/11 Memorial Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey - portrays "Search and Rescue Dogs" contribution to 9/11 rescue
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The canine heroes of 9/11

Thousands of people took part in the search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and more than 300 dogs joined, according to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. These hero dogs include:

  • Bretagne, a golden retriever who worked at Ground Zero 12 hours a day for two straight weeks with her owner Denise Corliss.
  • Riley, a golden retriever with FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1.
  • Apollo, a German shepherd with the New York Police Department’s K-9 unit who arrived just 15 minutes after the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

Jake, who couldn’t stop trying to make the world a better place

Jake was an injured stray pup when he was adopted by a member of a Utah search and rescue team. The black lab healed and became a world-class rescue dog, assisting in many rescue and recovery missions, including the September 11 attacks, when he worked at Ground Zero for 17 days. A few years after that, he assisted with the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita rescue missions. Later in life, he worked as a therapy dog in Utah.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.