War Dogs in World War I

Read all about the heroic duties of invaluable war dogs and Red Cross dogs back in World War I.

From the Archives of Dog World: Enjoy this all-access pass to dog history from the pages of the longest published dog magazine. This content remains in its original form and reflects the language and views of its time. Health and behavior information evolves and only the most current advice should be followed.

Dogs, since the days of Attilla, King of the Huns, who taught his spiked teeth dogs to tear down the enemy from the rear, have not been an unfamiliar sight upon the battlefields of man. As a matter of fact the Germans are still training dogs upon the lines of their distinguished war idol, while the Allies are employing dogs by the tens of thousands in most of the ways in which they use their human soldiers. In this war (World War I), however, the most essential part of the work of the dog is not to kill but to save. As a Red Cross worker he is doing daily stunts that if he were a human would bring him medals and promotion, often being wounded and when needs be dying like a brave soldier.
As there are men and men, there are dogs and dogs. Not in the very nature of things every man is equipped by nature to be a warrior, nor is every dog. They have to be disciplined, drilled and taught as much as any other rookie, and in selecting them especial attention has to be paid to the branch of the service into which they are to be drafted. This is necessary for the reason that an excellent watch dog may never be a good retriever, etc. however, the ordinary war dog once thoroughly broken is usually versatile of talent. Also, there is one quality possessed by all dogs: unwavering loyalty. Once taught the color of the enemy’s uniform, the dog will hearken to no peace drive from him. “Fight,” his master has commanded him, and to the war dog’s orders are orders.

A war dog may be set to watch the sky with his keen eyes and give tongue upon the appearance of an enemy plane. A war dog may be used as a guard for captured property such as ammunition, put in command of prisoners, used to track fugitives or arrest anyone who falls under suspicion. He may be set as an alarm clock to warn of the stealthy approach of the foe; trained to give notice of the presence of poison gas when the human nose cannot scent it; employed to haul light ordinance or carry ammunition. A war dog is also an excellent message carrier, scout or listening post assistant, and is even entrusted the extremely hazardous duty of carrying timed explosives, placing them upon the right spot and then scampering away before they explode. But more than anywhere else is he of value upon the battlefield in the succor of the wounded.

In this work the Red Cross was quick to recognize the war dog’s great value and adopt him into their service. For Red Cross work, he receives not only the regular military dog’s training, but gets additional instruction in his particular line of work. A part of this consists in teaching him to give first aid to the injured, and having done this to return to headquarters and report his case, thereafter leading the surgeons and stretcher bearers to the sufferer or sufferers. In nosing out the injured men who have fallen in inaccessible and out-of-the-way places his aid is invaluable. Hundreds of men are alive today who, had it not been for some keen-scented Red Cross dog, would have been overlooked by their companions and died where they fell. If a man is dead upon the battlefield the dog pays no attention to him, but if alive he stands over him that the wounded one may remove the first aid package which he carries about his neck, and this having been done he hastens back to headquarters regardless of the thickness of machine gun or shell fire and reports to his superior officer. Having indicated to him by a series of barks that he has found someone who needs assistance, the Red Cross dog turns about and guides his human comrades back to where he left his man; and with his duty done goes sniffing away in search of the next unfortunate. There is said to be a record of three thousand men having been located by Red Cross dogs at one hospital alone.

The war dog is given credit for having saved Verdun by carrying messages when the wires were all shot away and communication cut off. Be that as it may, there are thousands of dog heroes working upon the front today, many of who have been wounded a number of times. But so far as known, “Baldy” is the only dog who has a service flag of his own. “Baldy” was the leader of the famous dog team of Scotty Allen, who drove his dogs from Nome, Alaska, to San Francisco on a tour for the American Red Cross. He has twenty six stars in his flag, each of which represents a son or grandson who has enlisted for service. More than one of the stars that greet Baldy’s now age dimmed eyes upon his flag are of gold, proving that they have done their duty like loyal American dogs.

Excerpted from Dog World, December 1918, Vol. 3, No. 12. 


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