War dogs in ancient history and in the modern military units

war dogs

A soldier is ready to die defending his country, war dogs are ready to die defending the soldier.

When you know what you want to live for, you’re a human, but when you know what you would die for, that makes you a warrior.  

Dogs are born warriors. They can sense fear, see in the dark, and eat army rations without a fuss. Coded with courage and created from the ashes of a million brave hearts, war dogs are always ready for combat.

When a dog and his soldier are together, none of them are alone.

The strength of a soldier in combat becomes two folds when he knows that his four-legged companion is watching over him, always faithful, always true.

The soldiers and their dogs deployed in war are born to fight and trained to kill.  And, from meals to battles, from hardships to dangers, dogs have shared everything in two.

They are friends and companions, brothers in arms, peacekeepers and battle buddies for life.

Indeed, the bond that unites a dog and a soldier is stronger than a war and precious than life itself.

War Dogs in History

The history of dogs in war is both, fascinating and heart-breaking just as the life of a soldier fighting the war. For centuries, dogs have walked with brave men side by side, and proved their worth in battlefields and conflicts.  

Let’s take a look at what historians have in store for us about war dogs.

The Ancient War Dogs

Dogs have been used in war since the Iron Age and Roman period.

In these ancient times, the tribes named the Celts and the Gauls, bred wolf like dogs for fighting and trained them to wear suits of armour and collars with sharp iron pins.

These dogs were huge and extremely ferocious. They were used as weapons and provoked to break the enemy army’s formations, scattering and wounding the animals and horsemen.

The ancient Greek tribes, known as the Molossians, kept large Molossian dogs which were famous throughout the world for their size and ferocity.

In the 12th century, Irishmen put their wolfhounds into action in their campaigns and battles against Norman knights on horseback.

The English War Dogs

During the English War of the Roses (1455-85), the battling armies of Lancaster and York used mastiffs in the battlefields.

In the 16th century, the English and European monarchs brought their dogs to the battlefields.

400 mastiffs were shipped to Spain as a gift from King Henry VIII to the Roman Emperor Charles V to strengthen him in his wars against France.

In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I released 800 fighting dogs on the Irish Desmond revolutionaries.

1756 to 1763, in the Seven Years’ War between the armies of Prussia, England, Russia, Austria, Sweden, Saxony, Spain, Portugal and France, Prussian King Friedrich II introduced a messenger dogs between his army troops to transmit their strategies.

Dogs were also used as scouts and pathfinders in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14).

The Modern Day War Dogs

As warfare has progressed, the purpose of dogs in war has also changed greatly.

In the 19th century, dogs were used by international forces to deliver vital messages, carry explosives in complex routes, serve as guard dogs, and detect assassins.

For instance, in 1853-56, the Russians used dogs as sentries in the Crimean War.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) took so many human lives that a time had come when human guards had to be replaced by trained guard dogs.

The First Manual for Military War Dogs

Around 1860, the German military unit had an obsession for breeding and training dogs for warfare activities.

They set up the first military school for training war dogs in Lechenich (near Berlin) in 1884, and in 1885 the experts wrote the first training manual for military war dogs.

Additionally, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Imperial Russia used ambulance dogs and guard dogs.

These dogs were actually trained by a British dog lover Col. Edwin Richardson, who later on launched the first army dog school in England.

The dogs in this war were so well-trained that they guarded the Trans-Siberian railroad with supreme vigilance. As a result, the railroad was never attacked in this war.  

By the time the First World War could start, all the countries engaged in battle were ready to bring their dogs into action.

Dog Breeds used in Wars

While all dogs are can be trained to work for the armed services, but certain dog breeds are most suitable for wars.

Alsatians, Belgian Shepherds (Belgian Malinois), Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Airedale Terriers, Schnauzers, Boxers and were most eligible to be war dogs.

While Alsatians and Belgian Malinois were used for defence, the Labradors were used for tracking.

In Belgium, dogs of the French ‘matin’ type were used to pull carts with machine guns and other artilleries.

The Largest Army of War Dogs in the World

Did you know, Germany had the largest army of war dogs in the world? And, these war dogs were mostly Alsatians.

According to reliable sources, the Germans are said to had used 28,000 dogs, including 4,000 Red Cross dogs and 4,000 messenger dogs and patrolling dogs during the World War I.

France established a training centre for war dogs in 1910, and in 1915 the trained dogs were sent to the front for the very first time.

Roles of Dogs in Wars

Dogs have been used for many different purposes in war operations. From fighters to being mascots, dogs have always met the demands of their handlers.

With their excellent sense of smell and hearing, dogs could seek out soldiers and civilians in need of assistance, and track down invaders.

During the First World War, search and rescue dogs would escort their troops to risky areas and venture into no man’s land to locate wounded soldiers.

Man’s Best Friend During the World War I

Dogs played an essential role for the European armies during World War I, serving in a variety of tasks like transporting machine guns, serving as messengers, delivering messages under a hail of bullets and fire.

According to news reports, more than two thousand dogs were serving on the Western Front at one time during the war, and the Imperial War Museums holds details of the services of the dogs in WWI.

Role of dogs in World War II

Experts say that, for the Second World War (1939-45) the number of dogs deployed had multiplied by ten compared to the First World War.

Additionally, a new appearance was dogs serving in the armoured sections.

It is believed that some twenty thousand dogs served the U.S. Army, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. They were guard dogs, messenger dogs and search and rescue dogs.

These dogs provided supplies to soldiers in difficult to reach zones, carried messages during firing, and rescued downed pilots.

Scout dogs led their troops through enemy territory, exposing ambushes, hidden ammunition and saving the lives of their troops.


In ancient times, Romans and Greeks often used large mastiff-type dog breeds to destroy the enemy.

These war dogs would be strapped with armour or spiked collars and sent into battlefields to assault and do harm to the enemy men and animals.

Modern military units continue to employ dogs in an attack role.

The SOCOM forces of the US military still utilize dogs in raids to capture fleeing enemies or convicts, or for searching areas too challenging for human soldiers, such as crawl spaces and narrow bunkers.

Messenger dogs and telegraph dogs

Dogs serving in the warning and signals unit of armies were divided into messenger dogs and telegraph dogs.

The messenger dogs carried pigeons trained to fly back home, these homing pigeons were released at the battle front.

The telegraph dogs were daring dogs that carried a reel with a telephone wire which opened along the way.

The telegraphs dogs had the potential to avoid the danger in the trenches and firing lines. Thanks to their bravery and confidence, communication could be maintained between troops.

The patrol dogs could track down out hostile troops, militants and snipers.

Precision and no barking were significant requirements and mandatory eligibility for machine gun dogs who worked in pairs.

Detection and tracking

In wars, many dogs were used to detect mines and any danger that lurked under the soil. They proved to be quite effective while training and under combat conditions.

During practice and drills, dummy mines were planted and the dogs were trained to signal their presence.

Dogs have historically also been used in many events to track escapees or an enemy troop.

Using their inborn skill in tracking a scent, these dogs warn a handler at the initial presentation of a scent.


Scout dogs are search dogs. They have a sharp sense of smell and hearing which is far more effective at detecting dangers that humans usually cannot. For instance, scout dogs know the difference between human and animal scent.

Some scout dogs are trained to silently trace booby traps and hidden enemies such as snipers.

Scouting dogs have the potential to identify the opposing threat within 1,000 yards of area.

Scout dogs were employed in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam by the United States to find ambushes, concealed weapons, or enemy soldiers hiding under water.

The US implemented a number of scout-dog squads, and had a dedicated dog-training school for this super special role.


Sentry dogs were used to safeguard camps, gun towers, bunkers, or other priority areas at night and sometimes during the day.

They were trained to bark or growl to alert guards of an intruder’s presence.

The US military used sentry dog teams outside of a nuclear weapons storage area during the Cold War.

Forty sentry dog teams were deployed in the front lines, and as per the calculation provided by the United States War Dogs Association, these war dogs saved over 10,000 U.S. lives in Vietnam.

Sentry Dogs were also used by the Army, Navy, and Marines to defend the borderlines and areas of a large bases.


Dogs were often used as mascots for military forces, whose presence was designed to lift morale.

The dog chosen to be a mascot might be an officer’s dog, a dog that the military unit chose to adopt, or one of their dogs already employed in the canine unit as a working dog.

Some army units also chose to employ a particular breed of dog as their standard mascot, with new dogs of the same breed replacing the old when it retired, or died.

Modern roles

Dogs in military are also referred to as police dogs in many countries.

In the United States and United Kingdom, a military dog is known as a Military Working Dog (MWD), or simply, K-9 which stands for canine.

The roles of the modern war dogs are nearly as diverse as those of their ancient relatives, though they are rarely used in front-line formations.

As of 2011, only 600 MWDs were actively involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Typically, the most common breed for these police-related operations has been the German Shepherd.

In recent years, smaller dogs with sharp sense of smell are being used for detection work. Likewise, more resilient breeds such as the Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd are being used for patrolling and law enforcement.

All the MWDs in use today are paired with a single individual (handler) after their training.

The latest MWD vests are equipped with cameras and durable microphones that allow dogs to send audio and visual information to their handlers.

The changes in laws for military dogs has also come for the benefit of the canines.

Famous War Dogs in the World

Sergeant Stubby

The most famed war dog, Stubby, a stray American Pit Bull Terrier, served in the 26th Yankee Division in World War I. He was the only dog to be given the rank of sergeant.

Sergeant Stubby participated in 17 battles, four crimes, and was chosen as a Mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment (United States).

He also saved his troop from a mustard-gas attack, warned about an incoming artillery fire, and located and comforted wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

Sergeant Stubby once caught a German spy and held him tight until the American soldiers captured him.

Stubby’s heroic actions were documented in many newspapers, and he is the subject of an animated film.

Additionally, the website, StubbyDog.org and the ‘Stubby Award for Canine Heroism’ is named after him.

Sergeant Stubby’s remains are in the world’s largest museum, the Smithsonian Institution.


Chips, a sentry dog for the US Army, was the most reputed war dog from World War II.

The war hero was a Collie–German Shepherd–Siberian Husky mix who saw action in Germany, France, North Africa, and Sicily.

Chips assaulted on an Italian machine-gun nest and helped take 10 enemy Italian soldiers captive.

The courageous canine was awarded many commendations along with ‘Silver Star’ for his brave and heroic actions.


On December 4, 1966, Nemo, a German Shepherd, and Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg were patrolling at a cemetery near the unit’s airbase in Vietnam.

As the enemy fired, Nemo took a bullet to his eye, and Bob was shot in the shoulder after killing two enemy soldiers.

Lionhearted, Nemo still attacked the enemy and bought some time for Bob to call in reinforcements.

After Bob lost consciousness, Nemo slid over the top of the soldier’s body to guard him from any further harm.

Nemo didn’t let anyone touch Bob, and it took a veterinarian to remove Nemo.

Afterwards, Nemo and Bob recovered from their wounds. Nemo eventually retired in his kennel and he died when he was 11 years old.

Indian War Dogs Memorial

The dogs in Indian Army and security forces are no ordinary pets as their history is full of valiant tales.

The evidence of credentials of these brave warriors and the fact that the Remount Veterinary Corps (RVC) is decorated with a Shaurya Chakra and close to 150 commendation cards, is reason enough to prove their worth.

Sophie, Vida, Rocky, Buzo, Meena, Balram, Bhawna, Rosh, Cracker, Devil and Gem are some names of the mettlesome heroes honoured with Commendation Cards and gallantry medals from their Chiefs.

Mansi, a four-year-old Labrador was the first canine to have been selected for a posthumous war honour, the highest honour that a dog can get in military service in India.

The Labrador, along with her handler, were involved in the killing of a terrorist at Kaisuri ridge in the Tangdhar area, followed by the gunning down of two militants in 2015.

Mansi tops the list of canines whose names will be inscribed on the walls of India’s First War Memorial devoted to services animals, mostly dogs.

India’s first war memorial for dogs is to be established in Meerut very soon. It will include names of 300 dogs and 350 handlers, and other animals who lost their lives in Kargil War counter-insurgency operations, 1999.

“To our four-legged guardian angels who served and paid the ultimate price, we are forever grateful.”

Also read – Top Breeds of Police Dogs in the World You Should Know About

Also read – Amazing Dogs in Indian Army and All About Them

Also read – Top 10 Facts About Dogs That Will Blow Your Mind

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