Dogs have been used in war for centuries. They have displayed their courage, reliability and loyalty on countless occasions. An example of this is related in the following historical account:
… “During an engagement between the Greeks and the Corinthians during the Peloponnesian Wars (432 – 404 BC), the Corinthians too, used dogs for the purpose of defense. In the citadel of Corinth they had a guard of 50 placed in boxes by the seashore. Taking advantage of a dark night, the Greeks, with whom they were at war, disembarked on the coast. The garrison were asleep after an orgy. The dogs alone kept watch and the 50 pickets fell on the enemy like lions. All but one were casualties. Sorter, sole survivor retiring from the conflict fled to the town to give warning and rouse the drunken soldiers who came forth to battle. To him alone were the honours of history. And the grateful town presented to him a collar with the inscription “Sorter, Defender and Saviour of Corinth” and erected a monument engraved with his name and those of the 49 heroes who fell.”
Early day combat dogs often wore spiked collars and suits of mail and were turned loose against onrushing cavalry. The knifelike spikes were designed to play havoc with the horse’s legs and bring about an abrupt enemy retreat. These tactics were often successful. Roman legions took dogs on their expeditions into various parts of the world. Napoleon used dogs in the Franco-Prussian War and recommended the use of dogs as guards at Alexandria, Egypt. The colonial troops of the American Revolution used dogs. Dogs were used extensively during the Boer War of 1899-1902 and the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905.
They were used in searching battlefields for wounded and missing soldiers, as key aids to stretcher bearers and medical corpsmen. They were instrumental in saving thousands of lives.
World War I, 1914-1418 — The Germans, at the beginning of the conflict, had some 6,000 dogs trained to serve as messengers, guards, sentries and search dogs. The two main allied powers, Britain and France, had neither trained war dogs nor did they have a war dog training school. As the war proceeded, however, the British War Dog School, directed by Col and Mrs. Edwin H. Richardson was founded.
Recruit dogs and handlers were put through a three month course which included weeks of mock battles complete with simulated war sounds, battlefield barbed wire, smoke and confusion. Although the German Allied Forces used war dogs extensively, the American Expeditionary Force which fought in France had no war dogs officially trained and assigned to it.
Following WWI, a public memorial building was erected at Kilburn, England honouring war dogs. Its inscription reads in part “This building is dedicated as memorial to the countless thousands of God’s humble creatures who suffered and perished in the Great War of 1914-1918 knowing nothing of the cause but looking forward to final victory, filled with only love, faith and loyalty, they endured much and died for us.”
World War II, 1939-1945 — All the major powers in WWII used trained dogs at the battlefronts. The dogs performed as messengers, pack dogs, first aid assistants, locating wounded, spotting machine gun nests, guard dogs and sentry dogs.
The Germans founded the military kennels at Frankfurt in 1934 and by 1939 had ready for use about 50,000 trained dogs; most of them graduates of the Frankfurt school. Poland established a war dog training school in 1933, but had nowhere near the number of trained dogs as the Germans.
It was not until March 1942 that the United States, within the framework of a civilian organization called “Dogs for Defense” began procuring dogs for military use. A canine corps training program was under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Quartermaster General. In 1950, the United States reactivated its military dog training program and it has been kept active since.
Vietnam — The United States trained thousands of military dogs in Lackland, Texas. These dogs participated in the Vietnam conflict as guard dogs, patrol dogs, sentry dogs, search dogs and tracking dogs. The dogs have been credited with saving the lives of many military personnel. As a point of interest, during the Vietnam War, it was with great difficulty that dogs were procured for police purposes.
Trained dogs are used today in the troubled Middle East by United Nations peace keeping forces to help prevent insurgency, infiltration and sabotage.
Reprinted with permission Police Dog Service Training Centre