Military Working Dogs – used in War

Dogs have been used for Centuries

Dogs have been used since the Mid-7th century BC in warfare. As warfare progressed, so did the purpose of the war dog. Military Working Dogs – used in War have served many purposes throughout history.  Dogs were never recognized as heroes until World War 1. During the Mid-7th century, the Magnesian horsemen were each accompanied by a spear-bearing attendant and also a war dog. The dogs were released first to break enemy ranks, then the spear-bearing attendants would attack, and that would be followed by a cavalry attack. Dogs used during ancient times were often large Mastiff or Molosser type breeds. They would be strapped with armor or spiked collars and sent into battle to attack the enemy as the first line of defense. Many civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, used these tactics

In 525 BC at the Battle of Pelusium, dogs and other animals were used in the front line to take advantage of the Egyptian religious beliefs of animals. In 490 BC, dogs would follow their master into battle against the Persians and were memorialized in murals. In 480 BC., vast packs of Indian hounds were used during invasions. All were used in the military, but were also used for hunting or for sport. In 231 BC, “dogs from Italy” were used by the Romans to hunt down natives who were trying to hide in the caves. In 120 BC, Bituito, king of the Arvernii, used just the dogs he had in his army to attack a small force of Romans led by Fabius.

In the 1500’s, Spanish conquistadors used Mastiffs and many other large breeds of dogs to fight against the Native Americans. From 1914 to 1918, international forces used dogs to deliver vital messages. It is estimated that over one million dogs were killed in action just in those 4 years! World War I was a turning point for the use of dogs. Only one dog, a Boston bull terrier, named Sergeant Stubby, was the most decorated World War I dog, and the only dog to ever be nominated for rank and then promoted to sergeant because of combat. During his time in service, it is believed he captured a German spy. He later became a mascot at Georgetown University. Another notable World War I dog was named Rags. There is no other information on Rags. Several European armies adapted the process of using dogs to pull machine gun carts during World War I. The Belgian Army used dogs to pull Maxim Guns on wheeled carts, supplies on wheeled carts, and even used the dogs to haul injured and wounded off the battlefields. Using dogs for this purpose only lasted a few months. Once trench warfare came into play, there was no need for the dogs in this capacity. The French trained 250 in the beginning of World War I. The Dutch trained hundreds of dogs.

Dogs Used for War in Recent History

Modern militaries continue to employ dogs to be used in attack roles. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) forces of the United States Military still use dogs to apprehend fleeing prisoners or enemies during raids. They also use them to search areas that are too dangerous or too difficult, such as crawl spaces, for human soldiers. From 1941 to 1945, the Soviet Union used dogs strapped with explosives in the front lines against advancing German tanks. These dogs were used with limited success, and was a very cruel use of dogs. The dogs were fitted with tilt-rod mines. The dog was trained to run underneath the enemy tanks, which would automatically detonate the mines. However, the dogs were trained with stationary Russian tanks. The dogs did not understand that they were supposed to run under moving tanks. Most of them were shot as they ran beside the tanks. When both German and Russian tanks were present in the same area, the dogs would always run toward the familiar Russian tanks! The Soviet Red Army used trained dogs to drag the injured and wounded soldiers to aid stations during World War II. Large dogs were well suited for transporting loads over snow and through craters.  Also from 1943 to 1945, Doberman Pinschers were the official dogs used by the United States Marine Corps, donated by American owners, to help take islands back from the Japanese occupying forces in the Pacific theater. Even though Doberman Pinschers were used the most, all breeds of dogs were eligible to be trained as “war dogs of the Pacific.” Only 4 dogs of the returning 549 dogs that returned from war were not able to return to civilian life. Many of those 549 dogs were allowed to go home with their handlers after the war. The most decorated war dog of World War II was named Chips.

During World War II, dogs were used as the primary animal in medical experimentation. These experiments allowed doctors to test new medicines without risking human lives. Although these practices came under tremendous scrutiny after the war, the U.S. government responded by proclaiming all of these dogs used in medical experimentation as war heroes.

During the Viet Nam War, from 1966 to 1973, it is estimated that over 5,000 U.S. war dogs served. There was an estimated 10,000 U.S. servicemen that served as dog-handlers during the Viet Nam War. Those K-9 units are credited with saving over 10,000 human lives during those 8 years. It is recorded that 232 military working dogs and 295 U.S. servicemen working as dog handlers were killed in action. Only about 200 Viet Nam war dogs survived the war and were assigned to other U.S. bases outside of the United States. All the other remaining dogs that survived were left behind in Viet Nam or euthanized.

In 2007, Belgian Malinois were used in Iraq by the United States Air Force. In 2011, a Belgian Malinois military working dog named Cairo, was used in the take down and death of Osama bin Laden. Cairo was used by the U.S. Navy Seals. Also in 2011, 600 U.S. military dogs were actively participating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dogs in military roles now days are often referred to as police dogs, but in the U.S. are referred to as Military Working Dog (MWD) or K-9. They are very rarely used on the front lines anymore. They play various roles in whatever line of duty they are needed.

A Man and his Dog!

A Man and his Dog!

Dogs have also been used to carry messages in battle between two handlers. They would be turned loose by the first handler to move silently to a second handler. This required a dog that was extremely loyal to two different masters. Very few dogs can accomplish this. If the dog is not loyal to both masters, the dog would not deliver the message in time, and in most cases, would not deliver the message at all! This can be very dangerous during warfare. Dogs were also used for other communications jobs. Some were used to pull telephone communication lines from one location to another.

Smoky, a famous Yorkshire terrier weighing only 4 lbs. is credited with running a telegraph wire through a 4-8 inch diameter, 70 ft. long pipe to ensure communications without having to move troops into the line of fire.

In 1970, the U.S. Air Force had over 1,600 dogs that they used worldwide. Recent cutbacks have reduced the numbers of dog teams to approximately 530, also stationed worldwide. Many of the dogs trained today are trained at Lackland Air Force Base, the only U.S. facility that currently trains dogs for the U.S. Military. The most common breed used for operations used to be the German Shepard. There has been a shift, in recent years, to smaller dogs with keener senses of smell that are used for detection work.  More resilient breeds, used for patrolling and law enforcement, have been shifted to the Belgian Malinois and the Dutch Shepard. Since it is very difficult to train dogs to two handlers, all MWDs (Military Work Dogs) trained today are paired with one handler after their training. Dogs and handlers are paired for at least a year and sometimes longer. Usually, but not in all cases, a handler and a dog do not stay paired for the duration of either ones career.

There is a long history of dogs being used during warfare going back to ancient times. Dogs have been used as scouts, sentries and trackers, and have also been trained to be used during combat.  Dogs are used for many different purposes.  Different breeds are used for different missions, but they are always faithful and have always met the demands of their handlers. Over time, many of the roles previously used became obsolete and no longer used, but new roles were defined and dogs are still used in modern warfare. Dogs continue to be used in modern day combat. Military working dogs – still used in war today.


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