Dogs (War) - Encyclopedia

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"DOGS (WAR). - That dogs could be usefully employed as auxiliaries in the prosecution of war, as was the case in the World War of 1914-8, is not a modern discovery. Both Greeks and Romans used them for offensive and defensive purposes and for maintaining communication on the field of battle. Wardogs are mentioned by Plutarch and Pliny, and Strabo describes how, in Gaul, dogs were armed with coats of mail. In the Middle Ages and in early modern history there are many stories, some of them no doubt legendary, of the participation of dogs in war. In the Crimean War, dogs were employed on sentry duty; in the American Civil War they were used both as sentries and guards.

An ancient writer, Camerarius, noted that guard-dogs could discriminate Christians from Turks; and a modern authority has stated that dogs employed during the war of 1914-8 could even detect men of unfamiliar regiments. Instinctive fidelity and keen scenting power make the proper sort of dog peculiarly suitable for training as an auxiliary in war. Further, a dog very readily acquires a sense of danger; and it was noted, during the World War, that dogs, if unable to reach or uncertain of a particular destination, would make their way back to their kennels. They would never cross the zone to the enemy. The same instinct for hurrying to the rear was, it may be added, observed in stray horses and mules.

Despite his acknowledged suitability, however, no modern systematic training of the dog for use in war began until the latter part of the last century. About that time the movement made considerable headway in Germany, mainly because of the energetic championship of the animal-painter, Jean Bungartz. In France, too, some progress was made and some official encouragement extended; but in England, apart from the private efforts of Lt.-Col. E. H. Richardson, no action was taken, and it was not until 1917 that a British war-dog training school was established at Shoeburyness.

In Germany there was, at first, a great difference of opinion on the question of the most suitable breed for training. Poodles were originally decided upon, because of their high degree of intelligence, but poodles suffer considerably when exposed to the heat of the sun and, though they have sharp scent, they are extremely short-sighted. The St. Bernard was then experimented with. The record of its ancestors at the Hospice was distinguished enough; but it seemed to have been forgotten that the Hospice dog, besides being short-haired, was also of lighter build than the modern St. Bernard. The pointer was next tried; but though it has unquestionably the necessary intelligence and physical strength, the hunting instinct is so deep-rooted in this breed as to be ineradicable except after years of labour. One princi p le the German authorities had insisted upon from the outset - that " a military dog cannot be produced from cross-breeds." The Scotch collie, pure-bred for centuries, was, therefore, some 20 or 30 years ago regarded with great favour in Germany as a potential war-dog. J. Bungartz, indeed, in his book on the subject of the war-dog, dated 1892, pays eloquent tribute to the collie's qualities. Later, however, the collies fell into disrepute; and during the World War the great bulk of the dogs employed with the German army (it has been stated that, almost immediately after the outbreak of war, the Germans placed some 6,000 war-dogs in the field) were German shepherd-dogs. Indeed, according to the returns of the German Society for Ambulance Dogs (Oldenburg) of 1,678 dogs sent to the front up to the end of May 1915, 1,274 were German shepherd-dogs, 142 Airedale terriers, 239 Dobermanns and 13 Rottweilers. The figures remained in a like proportion throughout the war. The ambulance dogs were able to distinguish between the dead and the apparently dead; the former they left untouched, even passed with signs of disgust, the latter they succoured. The English and French armies found it impossible to employ ambulance dogs on the western front during the late war; but the German army seems to have employed them, especially during the Russian retreat on the eastern front, with conspicuous success. It is indeed officially recorded that thousands of German soldiers owed their lives to ambulance dogs. Messenger-dogs also constituted an acknowledged part of the organization of the German army. An infantry regiment was allotted a maximum of 12 dogs, while a battalion might have six, the allotments being made by the Messenger Dog Section (Meldehundstaffel) at the Army Headquarters. The breeds chiefly employed for messagecarrying work were German sheep-dogs, Dobermanns, Airedale terriers, and Rottweilers. The Germans, unlike the British, employed the dogs on the double-journey- " liaison " principle - that is, with two keepers, and the dog travelling backwards and forwards between both. In the British army the messenger-dog was trained to make the return journey only to the one keeper.

British war-dogs, which were placed under the signal section of the Royal Engineers, were employed principally in maintaining communication, though sentry-dogs did valuable work, especially in Salonika; but a British war-dog school was not established until 1917. Many types of dogs were used. Thus, of a total of 34 o dogs sent to France from the school within a certain period, 74 were collies, 70 lurchers, 66 Airedales, 36 sheep-dogs, and 33 retrievers, the remainder being made up of 13 different breeds.

A central kennel was established in France at Etaples. The training course at the school lasted about five or six weeks and the dogs and their keepers were then sent overseas. From Etaples the dogs were posted to sectional kennels behind the front line, each sectional kennel consisting of about 48 dogs and 16 men. From these kennels the dogs and their keepers in the proportion of one man to three dogs were sent up for duty in the trenches.

The war-dog training school of the French army was established at Satory about the same time as the English school was set up at Shoeburyness. Shepherd-dogs of various kinds, Airedale terriers and Scotch collies were mainly employed. Each French infantry battalion was allotted six dogs, the allotments being made from the Army Headquarters kennels. The U.S. army did not use dogs.

In determining a particular dog's suitability for war training, his physical condition should first be considered. Strength and agility combined, of course, with intelligence are in fact indispensable qualities. The chest should be broad, the legs sinewy and the paws of firm construction. Colour must also be taken into account. White dogs and those of " check " colouring are obviously unsuitable for war purposes. They would constitute too conspicuous a target. Sex, again, plays a part. A bitch in heat will, at any time, throw a pack into excited confusion and therefore, though trials have proved that bitches are apter at learning and are more trustworthy, they are not suitable for use in war. Castrated clogs, on the other hand, lack courage and temperament and are useless for work in the field. With regard to age it has been said that the dogs chosen for war training should not be less than one year and not more than four years old.

(C. E. W. B.; E. S. H.*)

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