The History Of Military Working Dogs

The call of modern warfare as the Gulf war demonstrated in 1991, exemplified our use of the most sophisticated, technology advanced equipment that the US could procure to bring swift and decisive victory for a just cause. To this end, the US had in the past, expended every available resource to meet the ultimate goal. But although the face of war changed, some fundamental tools and weapons used have not. As a matter of fact, the US followed certain paths laid out by the ancient peoples of Persia and Assyria with their use of four-legged technology in warfare.

Canines or ?wardogs? were used in warfare throughout history supporting combat operations. Long before the invention of gunpowder, dogs were gathered in columns, many of them clad in mail armor and spiked collars by the military forces of the Roman Empire. The English were known to have equipped their dogs with long spikes placed over their heads and had them charge forward to attack the enemy?s Calvary. Britain also employed the use of Mastiffs in 55 BC to fight Caesar?s invading armies. Napoleon was probably the first one to make use of the dog?s superior senses by chaining them to the walls of Alexandria,using them to warn of an impending attack. The borders of Dalmatian, a Croatian seaside province, used a Dalmatian dog breed (home of the Dalmatian) to warn of approaching Turks from Croatia.

The United States did not make extensive use of dogs prior to 1942. Up until that point, Germany was the dominant user of dogs. The Germans trained them for scout duty with infantry patrols. However, their primary job was to use their superior senses to give warning of an enemy?s approach. The dogs were also used to ferry messages between front line fighters and headquarters to the rear of the fighting.2

The Belgians and Russians followed closely behind Germany in their use of military dogs. The French used dogs for transportation purposes mainly with light carts carrying food and supplies. France had one canine training center, the Army Kennel for casualty dogs, at Fontainebleau. It was rumored that the French government encouraged the experimental use of dogs in areas other than rescue.

In all, many European countries continued with use of dogs in one form or another up until the start of World War I. Germany had, by far, the most experience with training dogs for war. However, France and Great Britain made greater use of them as messengers during WWI than Germany. The advantages of using the four-legged messengers were too plentiful to ignore. The animals were less likely to get captured than a human messenger, and less likely to get shot. Furthermore, sets of dogs were trained to run along the front lines and others to run to the back of the fighting to deliver messages.

At the start of World War I, America had no program for training dogs, or for that matter, using dogs in any capacity. But by By July 1943, over 11,000 dogs had been procured, with most of them coming from the Dogs for Defense. The first War Dog reception and training center was established at Front Royal, Virginia in August of 1942. The completion of this center allowed for the training of 200 men and 500 dogs. But the enormous influx of dogs pushed these numbers up to 400 men and 900 dogs by June of 1943. Other reception and training centers included Fort Robinson, Camp Rimini, San Carlos, Beltsville and Cat Island.

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