Hero dogs: Marine Cpl. John Dolezal poses with Cchaz, a Belgian Malinois, at Twentynine Palms in California.

Photo: © Adam Ferguson/National Geographic

National Geographic June coverMarine Cpl. John Dolezal poses with Cchaz, a Belgian Malinois, at Twentynine Palms in California. (Wondering about that spelling? Dogs bred at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the military’s primary canine facility, are given names that begin with a double letter.)

This photo and the ones below it are part of photographer Adam Ferguson's touching series about military working dogs to be published in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.

The scouting, tracking and sentry skills of dogs have been used on the front lines of some of the most dangerous battlefields in history. Working dogs of today still hold an important place in military operations, not to mention the hearts of their handlers.

In the video below, we learn about one particular dog, Layka, and her handler, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald. Layka lost a leg after being shot four times at point-blank range during a firefight in Afghanistan.

Accompanying the images and video is a story by writer Michael Paterniti that explores the relationship between Marine dog handler Jose Armenta and his beloved German shephard, Zenit (both seen in the photo below).

 
Hero dogs: Eliana and Jose Armenta relax with their Boston terriers, Oreo and Sassy, and their German shepherd, Zenit.

Photo: © Adam Ferguson/National Geographic

Eliana and Jose Armenta relax with their Boston terriers, Oreo and Sassy, and their German shepherd, Zenit. A retired Marine dog handler, Jose lost his legs in an IED blast while on patrol with Zenit. In 2012 he adopted Zenit. “Dogs complete our family,” he says, a family soon to include a baby.

 
Hero dogs: Sergeant Cartwright has Isaac sniff for weapons and explosives in a basement in Kandahar.

Photo: © Adam Ferguson/National Geographic

Sergeant Cartwright has Isaac sniff for weapons and explosives in a basement in Kandahar. A dog is trained to sit or lie down and not bark when it locates a target scent. The handler rewards the dog by letting it chew on its toy.

 
Hero dogs: Army Staff Sgt. Jason Cartwright bonds with his Labrador retriever, Isaac.

Photo: © Adam Ferguson/National Geographic

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Cartwright bonds with his Labrador retriever, Isaac, during a mission to disrupt a Taliban supply route. Dogs are very sensitive to their handlers’ emotions. Says Jay Crafter, a trainer for the military, “If you’re having a bad day, your dog is going to have a bad day.”

 
Hero dogs: Sergeant Bourgeois clips Oopey’s toenails

Photo: © Adam Ferguson/National Geographic

Sergeant Bourgeois clips Oopey’s toenails before a mission in Afghanistan. Handlers care for their dogs’ every need, learning canine CPR as well as how to spot canine post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts some 5 percent of deployed dogs.

 
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.