Dogs in War
Dogs in warfare have a long history starting in ancient times. From 'war dogs' trained in combat to their use as scouts, sentries and trackers, their uses have been varied and some continue to exist in modern military usage.
War dogs were used by the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Alans, Slavs, Britons, and the Romans.The Molossus dog of the Molossia region of Epirus was the strongest known to the Romans, and was specifically trained for battle.
Among the Greeks and Romans, dogs served most often as sentries or patrols, though they were sometimes taken into battle. The earliest use of war dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BC. The Lydian dogs killed some invaders and routed others.
Often war dogs would be sent into battle with large protective spiked metal collars and coats of mail armor.
During the Late Antiquity, Attila the Hun used giant Molosser dogs in his campaigns. Gifts of war dog breeding stock between European royalty were seen as suitable tokens for exchange throughout the Middle Ages. Other civilizations used armored dogs to defend caravans or attack enemies. The Spanish conquistadors used armored dogs that had been trained to kill and disembowel natives.
Later on, Frederick the Great used dogs as messengers during the Seven Years' War with Russia. Napoleon also used dogs during his campaigns. Dogs were used up until 1770 to guard naval installations in France.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars. The American Pit Bull Terrier was used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages, and as mascots in American World War I propaganda and recruiting posters.
Dogs have been used for many different purposes. Different breeds were used for different things, but always met the demands of the handlers. Many roles for dogs in war are obsolete and no longer practiced, but the concept of the war dog still remains alive and well in modern warfare. Their roles include: Fighting, Logistics and Communication, Mascots, Medical Research, Detection and Tracking, Scouts, Sentries, Law Enforcement, Drug and Explosives Detection, Intimidation, Search and Rescue, other.
Contemporary dogs in military roles are also often referred to as police dogs, or in the United States as a Military Working Dog (MWD), or K-9. Their roles are nearly as varied as their ancient cousins, though they tend to be more rarely used in front-line formations. As of 2011, 600 U.S. Military dogs were actively participating in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dogs have been used in warfare by many civilizations. As warfare has progressed, their purposes have changed greatly.
525 BC: At the Battle of Pelusium, Cambyses II uses a psychological tactic against the Egyptians, arraying dogs and other animals in the front line to effectively take advantage of the Egyptian religious reverence for animals.
490 BC: At the Battle of Marathon, a dog follows his hoplite master into battle against the Persians and is memorialized in a mural.
480 BC: Xerxes I of Persia is accompanied by vast packs of Indian hounds when he invades Greece. They may have served in the military as well as being used for sport or hunting, but their purpose is unrecorded.
231 BC: the Roman consul Marcus Pomponius Matho, leading the Roman legions through the inland of Sardinia, where the inhabitants led guerrilla warfare against the invaders, used "dogs from Italy" to hunt out the natives who tried to hide in the caves.
120 BC: Bituito, king of the Arvernii, attacked a small force of Romans led by the consul Fabius, using just the dogs he had in his army.
1500s: Mastiffs and other large breeds were used extensively by Spanish conquistadors against native Americans.
1914-1918: Dogs were used by international forces to deliver vital messages. About a million dogs were killed in action. Sgt Stubby, an American Pit Bull Terrier mix was the most decorated dog of World War I and became the first dog to be given a rank (of Sergeant) when he discovered, captured, and alerted the Allies to the presence of a German spy. Rags was another notable World War I dog.
1941-1945: The Soviet Union used dogs strapped with explosives to destroy invading German tanks.
1943-1945: The United States Marine Corps used dogs, donated by their American owners, in the Pacific theater to help take islands back from Japanese occupying forces. During this period the Doberman Pinscher became the official dog of the USMC; however, all breeds of dogs were eligible to train to be "war dogs of the Pacific". Of the 549 dogs that returned from the war, only 4 could not be returned to civilian life. Many of the dogs went home with their handlers from the war. Chips was the most decorated war dog during World War II.
1966-1973: Approximately 5,000 US war dogs served in the Vietnam War (the US Army did not retain records prior to 1968); about 10,000 US servicemen served as dog-handlers during the war, and the K9 units are estimated to have saved over 10,000 human lives. 232 military working dogs and 295 US servicemen working as dog handlers were killed in action during the war. It is estimated that about 200 Vietnam War dogs survived the war to be assigned at other US bases outside the US. The remaining canines were euthanized or left behind.
2011: United States Navy SEALs used a Belgian Malinois military working dog named Cairo in Operation Neptune Spear, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
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Dogs at War: Three-Legged Dog Delivers Crucial Message in WWI National Geographic - May 16, 2014
As long as men have been fighting wars, dogs have likely been somewhere on or near the battlefield. And more often than not, dogs have contributed bravely on the front lines, whether officially trained to do so or motivated by loyalty to soldiers. The history of war dogs is deep: The Corinthians used them with success against the Greeks. The Romans used dogs to guard their legions and raise alarms, as did Attila the Hun, who placed them around his camps for added protection.
The United States military has lagged behind the rest of the world's armies in using dogs, even though the idea was introduced early on. Benjamin Franklin made a somewhat lackluster attempt to advocate for using dogs (though more as weapons) in 1755.
Beginning with the Revolutionary War and through World War I, dogs had a mostly unofficial presence alongside American soldiers, coming to combat either as a beloved pet of a general, as a mascot, or as the stray-made-companion of an obliging soldier.
It wasn't until the onset of World War II that the U.S. War Department, emulating successful war dog programs in Europe, finally set into motion the military dog program that would evolve (and lapse and evolve again) over the next several decades. Started in World War II and continuing through Korea and Vietnam, today the Military Working Dog Program deploys dogs to Iraq and Afghanistan.
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