Sunday, 23 March 2014

First World War - How Dogs Become Good Soldiers

This article was published during the war in the ‘War Illustrated.’ It is interesting how the publishers sold the public the idea of the usefulness of dogs helping the soldiers in the trenches.


The training of intelligent animals like these is carried on in five different ways, for various uses.

1. As Ambulance Dogs. The animal seeks for wounded men lost on the battle-field; he searches in holes, ruins, and excavations, and hunts over wooded places or coverts, where the wounded man might lie unnoticed by his comrades or the stretcher-bearer. The dog is especially useful at this work in the night-time, when he can often by his scent discover fallen men who would otherwise be passed over, for at night-time ambulance-men often have to work in the dark, as lights would attract the enemy's fire. Having found a wounded man still alive, the dog brings his master (or the ambulance-man to whom he is attached) some article belonging to the sufferer. This object tells the master, "I have found someone - search!"
Usually the object brought is the fallen man’s képi (or nowadays his helmet), and the trainers teach the dog to find the man's headgear, but if this is missing some other object must be brought. It is a fatiguing operation for the animal, as he has to return with closed mouth. The ambulance-man who receives the article at once puts the animal on a leash, and is immediately led to his wounded comrade. The leash is about two yards long, so that the movements of the animal shall be hindered as little as possible.

If dogs were utilized in this service long during wartime, their value would be incalculable; and their use is all the greater when fighting takes place over an extended area. The situation of the wounded man overlooked or abandoned on the battle-field is a truly horrible one; he has to wait in the forlorn hope that he will be found, for the army has gone on, and the more victorious it is the farther it will push ahead. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 more than twelve thousand men were thus lost to the French alone, while in the Russo-Japanese War the Japanese lost over five thousand in this manner, showing that the methods then used for the exploration of the battle-fields were inadequate. In that war three dogs sent by a military dog society found twenty-three wounded men who had been abandoned after the battle of Cha-ho. In the Boer War the collie dogs taken out by the men, it is said, saved hundreds of wounded men who would never have been found by the ambulance-workers in the difficult country where fighting mostly took place.

2. As Trench Dogs or Sentinels. The sentry or trench dog is trained to stay in the trench itself or in a small "listening-post" made for him, either on the edge of the trench, outside it, or at a little distance away. There he remains on the qui vive, ready to signal the least suspicion of a noise or the presence of the enemy. In this work both his eyes and his scent help him. He is kept on the leash, and he gives the signal of danger by a slight growl, without barking, which would give the alarm. The greatest difficulty in the training of dogs for this work has been to rid them of the habit of barking, but this has been overcome with care and patience. The training of dogs for this class of work can be - and has been-carried to great lengths. A man crawling on patrol work takes a dog with him, also in a crouching position, on a leash. A little tug at the leash causes the dog to rise, to retire, or to change its direction, and a properly-trained animal will answer to the leash as satisfactorily as a horse does to the reins. Such a dog is of immense help at night, when he can be taken quite close to the enemy.

3. As Patrols or Scouts. The dog accompanies the human scout in his reconnaissance, and helps in finding advance posts or sentinels, and locating small groups of the enemy.

4. As Couriers or Messengers. The animal acts as a messenger, carrying written orders or information, and is used according to circumstances. He can carry messages between groups in the rear and fighting formations in the front - for example, between the artillery and the infantry, and vice versa; between two fighting forces, such as battalions, companies, or sections; between the headquarters and the various positions of the army; or between the main body and detached posts, such as patrols, scouts, etc. Taken along by a patrol or scouting party, he can be sent back to the main body with a message fixed to his collar. The note having been removed and read, a reply can be attached to his collar, and the dog sent back to the original body of men, even if they have changed their position, since he finds them again by his scent. A dog is not only much quicker in carrying these very special qualities, so that only a very few animals have been found capable of the work. It consists in sending him after a patrol en route with a message, or even in finding a lost patrol or scouting party and bringing it back to its base. It will readily be understood that an exceptional scent is required in a dog to do work of this sort.

In the two last-named classes of work dogs can pass swiftly backwards and forwards through brisk firing and run much less risk than a man.


There are several societies in Paris which choose suitable dogs in order to make soldiers of them. The "Central Society for the Development of the Breeds of Dogs" gave three thousand dogs to the French army last August. After they have been tested, an operation which takes about three weeks, they are sent to special stations in the rear of the armies to be trained, and five or six days are all that are necessary for the training of animals for the simpler kinds of work. For more difficult tasks the training is naturally a longer business. When dogs are to be trained as communication agents the in- struction may take several weeks. They are taught to go from one master to another, first by a call, then by a whistle, then simply at a mere gesture. Distances are gradually increased, obstacles are placed in the way, the animal's goal becomes invisible, and so on. Much patience is required in this kind of work; and it is found that the best results are obtained by kindness and giving rewards for good work accomplished. The animals are taught to recognize only two masters, and to obey them alone. Outsiders are not allowed to pet or feed them. When they understand that they have to obey only one or two men, they have to learn to follow one or both of them when marching in a column of infantry, to recognize them when in a group, and so on. They are taught to endure the sound of gun-firing or explosions quite close to them. Above all, they are strictly trained never to pick up articles on their journey and to refuse delicacies offered them by strangers.

Specially-trained dogs only are chosen for this work, and they are mostly sheep-dogs or collies or animals whose business it was in civil life to be guardians or watchers, and always on the alert. These are all the easier to train for the special work - somewhat of the same order - which they are set to do in war.

When the question of transport through the mountain snow had become a matter of urgent importance, the French authorities conceived the idea of using dog-drawn sleighs for carrying supplies. Some hundred "huskies' - a cross between the Eskimo dog and the wolf -and other trained dogs from Alaska, North-Western Canada, and Labrador were brought over by Lieutenant René Haas, a Frenchman who had spent fourteen years in Alaska. Mr. Warner Allen, the representative of the British Press with the French armies, describing the work of these dogs, says the snow in the neighbourhood of the Schlucht Pass was deep enough until almost the end of April for the dogs to render yeoman service. "They were able," he says, "to draw heavy loads over almost inaccessible country, and to supplement to a valuable extent the wheeled transport. But their utility has not ceased with the disappearance of the snow. They are now being harnessed to trucks on small two-foot-gauge light railways, which run everywhere behind the Front, and they are capable of drawing the heaviest load up the steepest gradient. Eleven dogs, with a couple of men, can haul a ton up some of the most precipitous slopes in the mountains, and I was assured that two teams of seven dogs each could do the work of five horses in this difficult country, with a very great economy of men."

This correspondent adds that the best of these imported breeds of dogs is the Alaskan, as "his courage never fails, ani he will work until he drops, though he is perhaps the weakest of them. They are all shaggy dogs, with prick ears and bushy tails, their colour ranging from black to white, between greys and browns. Their chest development, so necessary for hauling, is remarkable. They are mainly fed on rice, horse-flesh, and waste military biscuits, and this fare appears to suit them admirably, as they are always in splendid condition, and disease is practically unknown. The experiment of transporting these do as to France has shown that they can be of real service in mountainous country, and represent a real economy."
Dogs that are specially adapted or have been trained for hunting or sporting purposes are of little use in war, as they have acquired habits incompatible with the work now demanded of them, Certain breeds, such as the Great Dane, and others of limited intelligence, are of no value at all. Some of these have the habit of rushing forward at the slightest alarm, which is of more danger than advantage to the soldiers to whom they might belong.


The "dog soldier," like his master on special missions, has to see and hear without being seen or heard. It is amusing, but nevertheless true, that the dogs of smugglers and poachers, as well as those of coastguardsmen, have been found to be most useful animals in the army. A well-trained dog, acting with a sentinel or scouting party may be the means of preserving numbers of lives by saving them from unpleasant surprises,

The use of dogs in warfare was, of course, not invented in the present war, though their utility had been systematized and given more scientific scope than was ever the case before. In no previous campaign have men understood the full use that could be made of these highly-intelligent creatures.

It was the Belgians who first turned their attention to the subject of employing dogs more extensively. Everybody who has visited Belgium knows the use that is made of dogs for traction purposes all over the country. Nearly all the peasants who bring agricultural or dairy produce to market employ dogs to draw their small carts, sometimes harnessing whole teams to heavy loads. The dog is also greatly used in Belgium for sport, and from the sporting dog to the police dog is but a step. The dog in war - as sentinel, courier, scout, or ambulance worker - followed, and was the idea of Professor Reul, of the Veterinary School of Cureghem, and two journalists named Van der Snick and Sodenkampf. In 1885-6 the 11 first dogs trained to some of these purposes were shown at a dog show at Ostend, and shortly afterwards societies were started at Brussels, Liége, Lierre, Ghent and other places, not merely for the training of dogs, but to improve the breeds. Lieutenant van der Putte, of the Belgian army, started the Société du Chien Sanitaire for the express purpose of training dogs for ambulance work and soon afterwards similar societies were organized in Paris and Berlin.

It was quite natural that the Belgians should also think of using these draught-dogs for small machine-guns, thus providing an inexpensive but efficient light artillery. The Germans wished to imitate them, but it is related that when they tried to buy dogs from the Belgians, as they had no indigenous animals suited to the purpose, the Belgians refused to sell. In other ways, however the Germans were at the beginning of the war well provided with dogs for various purposes, including the ambulance service.

Since then the use of dogs in the German army has assumed considerable proportions. The animals used are mostly of the German sheep-dog variety, and a register of these, numbering several thousands, is kept for mobilization purposes by the German Sheep-Dog Club. Other breeds used by the enemy are terriers, red-haired griffons, Doberman pinchers, Airedale terries, and a sort of bull-terrier known as a "Boxer." Dogs, it appears, have been used by the German army chiefly on the Eastern Front, where the fighting was of a more open description than on the Western Front. The German papers published appeals from the authorities asking dog owners to offer their pets for war purposes, and many thousands were obtained as a result.

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