People are drawn to dogs for different reasons. Some look for dogs with playful, goofy personalities. Others love a cuddly couch potato, or an active running buddy. There is such diversity within the dog species—in size, appearance and personality—that we’re often able to find a buddy that fits our lifestyle. But some dogs are called upon to be more than our companions. Military working dogs have been around for centuries, and this Veterans Day we’re shining a light on some of the characteristics that make these special dogs an integral part of the armed services.

Military dogs perform a variety of jobs. They may be asked to accompany their handlers and alert them if an enemy is near. Detection dogs sniff out explosives and narcotics. And some dogs perform life-saving search and rescue missions. The assignments they’re given are critical, so it’s paramount that military dogs are up to the job. The dog breeds that are typically selected are ones that are innately hardworking, intelligent and disciplined. Let’s look at a few of the most common military dog breeds.

German Shepherds

When people think of military dogs, German Shepherds are the breed that most often comes to mind. These dogs are physically powerful, courageous and have strong protective instincts—all characteristics that help them keep their humans safe. They also thrive when given a job, and the more challenging the assignment, the better.

Dutch Shepherds

Dutch Shepherds share similarities with German Shepherds in terms of their athletic abilities and protective nature. They are obedient and eager to learn, both of which make them easy to train for special tasks. Alert and active, they are often used for search and rescue missions.

Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois looks similar to the German Shepherd, though they are more compact in size. This makes them more ideal for missions that may involve tandem parachuting or rappelling from aircraft. Fearless and relentless, Belgian Malinois are often used by US Navy Seals.

But not all military dogs are big…

While large, athletic dogs are most often used in military operations, little dogs have also played a part. Take for example Smoky, a 4-pound Yorkshire Terrier who performed heroics in World War II, and receive 8 battle stars.