A brief history of dogs in warfare

Puppies are fluffy and adorable and cuddly companions. Companions who are capable of sinking long, sharp teeth into the flesh of enemy skulls and pulling muscle from the bone.

And in honor of National K9 Veterans Day celebrated on March 13, we took a look at the history of dogs in warfare.

While dogs are known as man’s best friend, they’re also fur missiles that have served in mankind’s wars since at least 600 B.C when the Lydian king deployed dogs to help break the invading army of Cimmerians.

In the early days, the dogs were used to break up enemy formations, charging into the ranks and tearing down as many enemy soldiers as possible. Friendly forces would either hit the enemy just behind the dogs or would wait, letting the dogs sow chaos before the humans hit with maximum force.

As warfare modernized, so did the service of dogs. They gained armor for avoiding injury in combat (think large dogs in little knight costumes) and breeders tailored new generations of dogs better suited for fighting. Dogs were pressed into new roles, acting as couriers, sentries, and scouts.

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Rrobiek, a Belgian Malinois military working dog, and his handler, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Ogin, 3rd Infantry Regiment, practice bite training after work in Baghdad, Feb. 14, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anna Pongo)

In American military history, dogs served primarily as morale boosters, though some acted as prison guards and sentries. In one case during the Civil War, a Confederate spy who suspected she would be searched hid documents in a false coat of fur on her dog. The documents were safely delivered to Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard who was a little surprised when the woman cut the false hide off of her dog.

On the water, dogs served as rat catchers and mascots. Ships’ dogs also helped find food and water on undeveloped islands.

(Photo: U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command)

During World War I, dogs originally appointed as unit mascots distinguished themselves in open combat. One of America’s greatest animal war heroes served in World War I. Stubby the dog started hanging out with Connecticut soldiers drilling for service on the front lines.

Stubby went overseas with the 102nd Infantry and gave soldiers early warning of artillery, gas, and infantry attacks. During a raid against German defenses, Stubby was wounded by a hand grenade. Stubby stayed in the war and later apprehended a German spy. He was later promoted to sergeant.

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Sgt. Stubby rocks his great coat and rifle during World War I. (Photo: Public Domain)

Of course, the introduction of true industrial war in World War I brought other changes to animal service, including the beginning of dogs acting as engineers. Dogs were fitted with cable-laying equipment and would place new communication lines when necessary, providing a smaller target for enemy soldiers trying to prevent Allied communication networks.

In World War II, dogs returned to their old roles, but they were also pressed into new ones. In one of the more horrific moments for animal combat, Soviet forces trained dogs to scurry under German tanks while wearing magnetic mines. The mines would detonate against the hull, disabling or killing the tank but also the dog.

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Rob was a heroic parachuting dog of World War II later awarded the Dickin Medal. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

The first airborne dogs jumped into combat on D-Day, accompanying British paratroopers as they fought the German armies.

America’s greatest dog of its greatest generation was likely Chips, a German Shepherd, Collie, Husky mix that forced the capture of 14 Italian soldiers in one day during the invasion of Sicily despite being wounded.

Throughout Korea and Vietnam, dogs continued to serve next to their humans.

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Australian soldiers pose with their black labs trained to hunt Viet Cong soldiers in the infamous tunnels of the Vietnam War. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

In Vietnam, an Air force sentry dog named Nemo was patrolling the airbase perimeter with his handler when they were attacked by Viet Cong guerillas. The handler killed two enemies and Nemo savagely attacked the rest while the handler called for reinforcements. Nemo lost an eye and the handler was injured, but Nemo kept him safe until reinforcements arrived.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs have served primarily in explosive detection roles, helping American and allied forces avoid IEDs and mines. They’ve also served on assault teams with special operators.

While some of the dogs in modern special operations are trained to engage directly with the enemy, Cairo went on the kill/capture mission against Osama Bin Laden but was there to search out hidden passages, enemies, or weapons.

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