Iconic 'Devil Dog'
R. Lee Ermey hosts new military
working dog reality show
Long before his iconic role in “Full
Metal Jacket,” R. Lee Ermey was just
another farm kid in Kansas doing
chores with his dog.
His collie mix Tippy faithfully
trotted alongside him every frigid
winter morning to break up the pond
ice so the cattle could have
drinking water and then later in the
day to herd up the cows for milking.
“It got to the point where, he was
so bright, I’d just tell old Tippy
to go get them and he’d go do that
chore for me,” Ermey says.
So when the Sportsman Channel asked
if Ermey would host the reality show
“Saving Private K-9,” he jumped at
“I couldn’t sign the papers quick
enough,” Ermey tells OFF duty from
his home outside of Los Angeles.
“Let’s face it: Americans love their
dogs. I’m no different. I’ve got a
couple of old mangy mutts hanging
around here at my house right now
mooching off of me.”
If he has soft spot anywhere, it’s
for dogs. Over the years, he’s had
as many as six at once, always
strays or rescues from shelters.
If you know Ermey, you probably know
him best training dogs of a
different kind, molding young Marine
recruits as drill instructor Gunnery
Sgt. Hartman in the movie “Full
While he was an actual Marine drill
instructor in San Diego for three
years, it was in Vietnam where he
saw firsthand just how smart and
hard-working dogs could be in
combat. The military deployed some
4,000 working dogs into that war
zone, tasking them with everything
from scouting missions through the
jungle to sniffing out Viet Cong
tunnel systems and booby traps.
Although Ermey was medically retired
as a staff sergeant after 11 years
in the Corps, he was awarded an
honorary promotion to Gunny in 2002.
In the wars since then, military
working dogs and their handlers have
become even more critical to troops
downrange and police back home.
That’s why Ermey says the first
12-episode season of “Saving Private
K-9” will profile the stories of
military and law enforcement working
dogs and their handlers.
In one of his favorite episodes, the
show reunites one dog-and-handler
team years after both were injured
in an IED explosion in Afghanistan.
“The dog got medevaced in one
direction and he got medevaced in
the other direction. He looked for
his dog forever and ever,” Ermey
“So we’re reuniting this guy and his
dog, and I’m interviewing him in the
front room of a house and look up
and, my God, my camera guy has got
tears streaming down his cheeks. My
sound guy has a Kleenex, he’s
daubing away at his eyes. Everybody
in the damn room is bawling. It was
all I could do to keep from tearing
Ermey says he hopes the show will
put a spotlight not only on the bond
between dogs and their handlers, but
also lead to real changes in how the
canines are retired from service.
“The military had let this dog go
and he was in a kennel. Trapped in a
little bitty cage, he had lost about
40 pounds, his teeth had all fallen
out. If that’s the way we take care
of our working dogs when we retire
them, shame on us,” says Ermey. “The
military and law enforcement need to
realize when that old dog is ready
for retirement, you don’t just dump
Ermey says to be sure to keep an eye
out for a certain Belgian Malinois
in one of the episodes.
The Navy SEAL unit that killed Osama
bin Laden is known to have raided
his house with a malinois named
Cairo by their side.
“We have that dog [for the show]. We
can’t say that, but we have that
dog,” Ermey says.
He’s cagey with the details, adding
only “We’ve done our homework. We’ve
got the right dogs in this show,
The show premieres May 15, airing
Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.