Lucca, with owner Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham, in London this week to get her medal. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

A U.S. Marine Corps dog who sniffed out explosives and protected thousands of troops has been honored with the highest prize for animals serving bravely in military conflict.

Lucca, a 12-year-old German shepherd, won the Dickin Medal, a decoration for bravery. She is the first Marine Corps dog to receive the honor.

Lucca is credited with saving thousands of allied troops and never had a human casualty on one of her patrols. In March of 2012, on her final patrol in Afghanistan, she discovered a 30-pound bomb and was searching for more when a second device detonated. Lucca lost her left front leg but survived.

Her owner, Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Willingham of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was by her side Tuesday in London, England, as she received the medal. The award was created in 1943 by animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin. It has been awarded to 67 animals — dogs, horses, pigeons and one cat — for acts of bravery in wartime service.

— Wire and staff reports