You know those films that just tug at your heartstrings? Dog war movies definitely fit that bill. Whatever the canine’s character—trained service animal, therapy dog or civilian’s best friend—dog war movies honor all that these incredible animals do for us humans.
So, on your next night in, why not curl up with your furry best friend to watch a few of the top dog war movies? You’ll probably want to grab a chew toy for them and some popcorn for you—and maybe some tissues, just in case. Here are 10 of the best.
The 10 Best Dog War Movies
1“War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend”
This movie will make a dog lover out of the hardest of hearts. This gut-wrenching HBO documentary—executive-produced by Channing Tatum, by the way—speaks to the heart and soul of the bonds between soldiers and their military canines. You’ll watch heroic stories unfold about war dogs and their handlers who have served in the United States military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq—including one veteran who credits his dog with saving his life.
The film highlights the immense roles these highly trained military working dogs play in various military operations, including detecting explosives, searching for survivors and providing emotional support to soldiers in the most challenging and dangerous situations—sometimes even giving their lives to do so.
You’ll get an inside look at the rigorous training that these American heros—both the dogs and their human partners—undergo before deployment, and come away with a better understanding of the sacrifices and contributions canine soldiers often make.
Watching “Max,” you get a glimpse at what returning to civilian life can look like for some military animals or dogs who have been through war trauma. Max is a Belgian Malinois whose handler, U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott, was killed in action. After Max returns home to live with the fallen soldier’s family, he shows signs of anxiety, fear and sadness, which an expert attributes to post-war PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
However, Kyle’s younger brother, Justin, quickly forms a bond with Max, only to find out some unsettling news about his brother’s death. Together the pair dig into the controversy, survive some harrowing situations and protect each other and their family every step of the way.
This dog war movie is both heartwarming and action-packed until the very end. Through it all, the lessons of patience, healing and redemption are front and center.
You’ll find yourself laughing, crying and hugging your own dog a little tighter while watching “Dog,” starring Channing Tatum. The actor plays Jackson Briggs, an Army Ranger who returns from deployment struggling to adjust to civilian life. After being asked to help bring Lulu, a war dog partner of a fallen fellow soldier and friend, to the funeral, he begrudgingly accepts and embarks on a wild road trip.
Lulu, who has not taken well to anyone since her soldier partner’s passing, is not exactly well-behaved or cuddly to Briggs at first. But as their journey progresses, both human and canine begin to better understand each other and lower their guards.
Together Briggs and Lulu find healing, support and a renewed sense of purpose that makes for an uplifting, adventurous and satisfying film.
Kate Mara stars as corporal Megan Leavey in this drama film based on the true story of a U.S. Marine by the same name and her military dog, Rex. During deployment, the pair is focused on explosive detection, which Rex excels at. Their partnership saves lives and earns them recognition for their courage and dedication, but when they are both injured during active duty, sadly, they are separated.
The rest of this dog war movie chronicles Leavey’s fight to get Rex officially retired from service as she tries to make a life for herself back at home. As a viewer, you get a taste for the potential struggles and red tape involved in declassifying a military dog, whom some may view more as a tool for war than a sentient being and loyal companion.
All in all, the movie is an emotional rollercoaster that highlights the depth of the connection between a military handler and her service dog. By the end of it, you’ll totally understand just how difficult it would be to live without a Rex-like dog in your life after all you’d been through together.
5“Finding Rin Tin Tin”
Rin Tin Tin was a real German Shepherd who became a Hollywood star after being rescued by an American soldier during World War I. But you don’t have to be familiar with the origins of this famous canine to enjoy the entertaining, family-friendly dog war movie, “Finding Rin Tin Tin,” which came out in 2007.
The movie is an adaptation of the dog’s famous rescue and rise to fame, so you’ll watch as soldier Lee Duncan discovers the dog, whom he nicknames Rinty in the film, and takes him along during his deployment. What unfolds is a lighthearted dog war movie that includes both heroic moments and mischief from Rinty while on base.
While this particular four-legged actor is obviously not the original Rin Tin Tin, it’s easy to see that these stately, intelligent and loyal dogs have serious star quality.
6“My Dog Skip”
If you’re interested in a dog war movie that’s less about watching actual battles and more about what life is like during times of war, then “My Dog Skip” is for you. The film is set in the 1940s during WWII and centers on a young boy named Willie. Willie’s father has come back from the Spanish Civil War with the loss of a leg, and a neighbor returns from WWII disgraced. The entire community is feeling the ripple effects of the conflict of this unique era.
That makes the introduction of Skip, a smart and talented Terrier, as the family’s pet and Willie’s new best friend and supporter, all the more uplifting. Skip takes loyal companionship to the next level, helping Willie face social anxieties (and bullies) as he navigates growing up—not easy, no matter what decade you’re living in.
This dog movie is a coming-of-age story not just for Willie as a young kid, but also a town trying to find its footing during war times. You’ll feel every high and low point Willie and Skip go through together, but you’ll end the film feeling hopeful and proud of everyone’s resilience.
7“Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog”
The story of Kaleb, a German Shepard born and raised by a Jewish family, is at times difficult to watch, but it’s a story worth watching. Understanding the story of Kaleb and his companion, Joshua, the son of the family, means also better understanding the plight of the Jewish community during World War II.
When anti-semitic rules, such as stripping Jews of the right to have pets, are enforced, Kaleb is instead trained as a military dog for an SS officer, which now makes him the opposition. Like a gut punch, you watch as young Joshua meets his old friend Kaleb once again at a Nazi concentration camp. It’s immediately clear that Kaleb recognizes Joshua and has never forgotten him.
The rest of the film follows the journey of both man and his best friend and their struggle and hopes to reunite. The poignant film explores what it really means to be loyal, and the enduring bond between humans and our pets, even in the face of extreme adversity.
8“To Be of Service”
This heartwarming documentary follows military veterans and their service dogs. The stories you’ll watch highlight how many service men and women have struggled to find a treatment plan for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) following their time in active duty. Medication sometimes isn’t enough or leaves them feeling fatigued and unlike themselves. But everything changes when they are paired with a service dog.
No matter what these veterans are dealing with from their past and present, you can see just how transformative these service dogs have been for their lives and their recovery. The movie also addresses the broader issues surrounding veterans’ access to service dogs—who gets them and why—and the efforts to raise awareness and funding for this vital form of therapy.
If you’ve watched other dog war movies on this list and have seen how critical dogs can be on the battlefield, you’ll be in awe of just how equally important they can be after the physical scars of war have long been healed.
“Army Dog” is another family-friendly film, following Army sergeant Tom Holloway and his dog Conner, who return to the U.S. after a highly successful mission and aim to settle back into family life. Holloway’s daughter isn’t immediately excited to share her dad’s attention with someone on all fours, as she’s missed her father and is struggling to find her place in his post-war life.
As the story unfolds, Holloway brings his daughter and Connor on a camping trip that goes awry. He gets badly injured and, now, it’s up to Connor and his daughter to work together to find help for him. You might be able to guess that Connor wins Holloway’s daughter over during their high-stakes adventure.
This dog war film is set during the American Civil War and follows the harrowing story of Benjamin Gardner, an enslaved man who escapes and eventually joins the Union Army to secure his freedom alongside his loyal dog, who, you guessed it, is named Jack.
Together they head off to war, where in the midst of battle, the young man meets the slave owner from whom he escaped. The film is based on a book by the same name, which is based on a real-life story of a four-legged mascot of sorts during the Civil War. The movie takes you back in time to a struggling and divided America and makes you thankful for the progress made and determined to push for the progress left to reach.
Military Dogs, Thank You For Your Service