History of  Military Working Dogs

Dogs have been used in warfare since mankind first used sticks to beat each other to death. In World War 1, dogs were used to carry messages, search the battlefields for wounded, and for the detection of enemy forces. 


Photo Above: French K-9 Teams in WW1     

While the horse and mule were rapidly passing from the military scene the Army during World War II, ventured into a new and comparatively untried field of activity - the use of dogs for military purposes. Even though it had utilized a few dogs in minor roles earlier, it was not until World War II that they were used to any significant extent as auxiliaries to our fighting men when trained for sentry, messenger, scout, sled and pack duties. However the use of dogs for such purposes was by no means new to the world.

The extraordinary characteristics of the dog - acuteness of his senses, his docility, his affection for man, his watchfulness, and his speed enable him to be of great value for military purposes. This fact was recognized centuries ago. As methods of warfare changed through the ages, so did the military use of dogs change.

Prior to the introduction of gunpowder, dogs usually took an active part in combat. The early Greek and Roman soldiers made use of large dogs by equipping them with spike collars and sending them forward to attack the enemy. During the Middle Ages, war dogs were outfitted with armor and frequently were used to defend caravans. The North American Indians developed the dog for pack and draft work as well as for sentry duty. By the early part of the twentieth century most European countries were utilizing dogs in their armies. Russia used ambulance dogs during the Russo-Japanese War. The Bulgarians and Italians employed dogs as sentries in the Balkans and in Tripoli, as did the British on the Abor Expedition in the Himalayas. During the long drawn-out Spanish-Morocco War the Riffs camouflaged the animals in garments to make them indistinguishable from their owners in the hazy desert visibility and trained them to run along the front lines and draw the fire of the Spaniards, thus revealing gun positions.

Dogs were used in sizable numbers in World War I, particularly by the Germans, French, and Belgians, and proved of considerable value under advantageous conditions for certain types of auxiliary duties. The German Army is reported to have utilized approximately 30.,000 of the animals for messenger and ambulance service, The French and Belgian Armies employed them on a smaller scale for messenger, ambulance, and draft work.

In the Spring of 1918, during World War I, a recommendation was made by G-5. General Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces that dogs be used as sentries, messengers, patrol aids and for special supply missions. It was proposed to procure 500 dogs from French training centers every three months to equip American Divisions with 228 each; training to extend to the United States, five kennels with 200 dog capacity each. However, the project was disapproved by G-3, General Headquarter, and the matter dropped.

At the time of Pearl Harbor, the sled dog was the only working type to be found in the Army. About fifty of these animals were assigned to military stations in Alaska, where they-were employed when snow and ice precluded the use of horses mules or motorized transportation. Apart from the animals in Alaska, the only other sled dogs were the forty obtained from the Byrd Antarctic Expedition on its return early in 1941. They were used by the Air Corps Ferrying Command in rescuing airmen forced down in snowbound and desolate parts of Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland.

Origin of the War Dog Program

The Army still had no plans for training dogs when the United States entered World War II. -That such a program eventually was adopted was due partly to the enthusiastic support given the idea by the major organizations of dog owners and breeders and partly to the vision of a few military men who foresaw various ways in which dogs could be used to excellent advantage. As soon as it became apparent that the United States might become actively involved in the new global conflict fanciers of dogs pointed out the possible value of the animals to the Armed Forces, and leaders of several prominent dog organizations turned their attention to developing training techniques that might be militarily useful, particularly for sentry and casualty work.

The attack upon Pearl Harbor and the sudden entry of the United States into the war greatly stimulated interest in the use of dogs for sentry duty, With the rapid expansion of industrial plants and Army installations, the potential damage that might be done by saboteurs enemy aliens, and fascist-minded groups was constantly mounting, and precautionary measures were required. The necessity for such measures was further emphasized early in 1942 when German submarines began to operate in large numbers near the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and landing of expert saboteurs loomed as a distinct possibility. Dog fanciers were not slow to point out that the animals might be extremely valuable auxiliaries if they were attached to Coast Guard beach patrols then being organized to prevent such landings and if they were used as guards at industrial plants and Army installations.

Role of Dogs for Defense Inc. as Procurement Agency

Meanwhile -steps were being taken to establish a national organization to guide the patriotic purpose of dog owners along constructive lines, Outstanding among the leaders of this movement were Mrs. Milton Erlanger, prominent dog breeder and exhibitor Arthur Kilbon, who for years had written articles about dogs for the New York Sun and other publications under the pseudonyms, Arthur Roland and Roland Kilbon; Harry I. Caesar, who was elected President of the newly formed organization, Dogs for Defense and Len Brumby head of the Professional Dog Handlers Association,, The result was the establishment of Dogs for Defense, Inc., which was designed to serve as a clearing house for coordinating the various attempts to develop interest in sentry dogs. This new group obtained the cooperation of the American Kennel Club, which as the registration body for all pure-bred dogs, wielded a strong influence among owners and fanciers. The most powerful professional and amateur influences thus were mobilized to assist in launching Dogs for Defense in January 1942. Funds to finance the operation of Dogs for Defense were to be obtained through member clubs of the American Kennel Club and by donation from individual financiers. The animals were to be acquired by donation trained at kennels under the supervision of Dogs for Defense, and distributed for use where they were most needed, Regional offices were to conduct most of the work actually required in connection with procurement and training.**

Shortly after the establishment of Dogs for Defense, the American Theatre Wing War Service made a formal offer to donate dogs to the Quartermaster Corps for defense purposes. In view of the mounting interest in sentry dogs and the fact that the Army had no regular means of obtaining them The Quartermaster General asked permission of the Secretary of War to accept the dogs without cost to the Government. The authority was granted in February.. Inasmuch as the organization of the Theatre Wing group did not lend itself readily to the actual procurement and training of dogs, officials of Dogs for Defense agreed to assume these responsibilities.

The program embarked upon was experimental because canine supply and training, except in connection with sled dogs were entirely new tasks for the Army. It was designed primarily to provide a test of the usefulness of dogs at Quartermaster Installations. Supervision of the new program was assigned initially to the Plant Protection Branch, Inspection Division OQMG (Office of The Quartermaster General) on the theory that dogs would be used chiefly with guards at civilian war plants and Quartermaster depots. Original estimates listed requirements at only 200 animals.

To fill this order, Dogs for Defense asked qualified trainers to volunteer their services without pay and called for the donation of animals and the use of-private kennels for instructional purposes. Donations of 100 acceptable dogs were soon obtained but none of the kennels offered was sufficiently large to carry on the training of so many animals- so it was necessary to maintain a dozen small training centers in various parts of the country. This meant that standardization of instruction was impossible. Moreover, few animals were actually delivered to using agencies. An Army inspection made in June, three months after the program began, revealed that the dogs in training had made little progress. This was due largely to the fact that available instructors generally were inexperienced in teaching sentry dogs and unfamiliar with military conditions most of them having specialized in preparing animals for routine obedience tests or for field trail work. Another striking weakness of the program was the failure to teach men to handle the dogs. This defect however, was due primarily to the fact that the Army did not make enlisted personnel available for this purpose.

Partly because of the discouraging conditions, under which Dogs for Defense conducted its activities and partly because the demand for sentry dogs was beginning to outstrip the original limited conception of the number required, a new training program was developed in the summer of 1942, The first step toward formulating such a program was the transfer of the responsibility for procuring, handling, and training dogs from the Plant Protection Branch to the Remount Branch. The extensive and specialized organization of the Remount Branch its long experience in dealing with animals and its strategically located depots made it the logical agency to handle an enlarged program. Inasmuch as it was still intended to use only sentry dogs and these largely at civilian plants the responsibility for the issue was retained for the time being in the Plant Protection Branch but this function too was shifted to the Remount Branch in September. This realignment of functions meant that while Dogs for Defense lost its training function, it retained the procurement function by delegation from the Remount Branch.

Evidence that military interest was developing in the potentialities of war dogs for tactical purposes was demonstrated early in July 1942 when Headquarters, Army Ground Forces announced plans to utilize 100 messenger and scout dogs and 100 sled dogs in the proposed Mountain Division, and submitted a request for eleven of these dogs in November for use in a test at Camp Hale in Colorado. Another token of interest in tactical dogs was the request made by Army Ground Forces a short time later for specially selected animals for experimental training in message carrying wire-laying, pack-carrying, first-aid, scout, attack., and trail work.

Formal recognition of the possible military value of dogs came on 16 July 1942, when the Secretary of War directed The Quartermaster General to broaden the scope of the War Dog Program to include training for roving patrol messenger and sled work in addition to fixed sentry duty. Instruction in this latter category it was pointed out, should be modified to meet the needs of the Army Air Force in guarding Air Fields, and possible uses by other agencies. This directive also ordered the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Force and the theaters of operations "to explore the possibilities of using dogs advantageously in the various activities under their control."

Pending the determination of military needs, The Quartermaster General was ordered not only to conduct training of dogs in the four categories but also to teach handlers, develop training techniques, and establish schools capable of rapid expansion. Thus the program originally based on the assumption that dogs would be employed only in small numbers and only for fixed sentry duty at industrial plants and Quartermaster installations became one based on the supposition that these animals might be utilized generally for a wide variety of tactical purposes by other arms and services.

The functions of the Quartermaster Corps expanded still further in the fall of 1942 when the Corps was made responsible for procuring and training dogs for the Navy and the Coast Guard. This was an out- growth of the steady increase in demand for dogs among the Armed Forces.

The Coast Guard required dogs in mounting numbers for its beach patrols and the Navy needed them for sentry duty at its yards, air stations ordnance plants,, and ammunition depots.

At this time Mrs. Milton Erlanger, mentioned earlier as having been one of the most enthusiastic leaders in organizing Dogs for Defense Inc. entered on duty as Expert Consultant to The Quartermaster General in setting up the War Dog Program, unofficially known as the "K-9 Corps". While this title was never officially adopted, it became the popular title of the Program, obviously due to its phonetic association with the words "canine corps". Mrs. Erlanger worked directly with the then Chief of Remount Branch Colonel E. M. Daniels, in formulating plans for the procurement of "suitable dogs and for their training as well as the recruitment of personnel for the latter function. By reason of her many years’ experience as a dog fancier breeder exhibitor and judge of shows she was eminently fitted for this position. She authored the Training Manual known as TM 10-396-WAR DOGS, technical bulletins, training films, etc…

WWII K-9 Unit Hampton Roads, VA

Procurement and Training

To implement the greatly expanded program, The Quartermaster General ordered the establishment of war dog reception and training centers. Their function was to receive animals procured by Dogs for Defense, give them a rigid physical examination classify them accordingly to the type of work for which they seemed best fitted, and provide the training necessary to make them useful to the Army. In addition the centers had the task of training enlisted men to serve as dog handlers in order that there might always be available personnel capable of caring for the animals and supervising their work.

Location of Training Centers

The first of these centers was established in August 1942 at the Front Royal Virginia Quartermaster Remount Depot, Three others were opened late in l942 .- Fort Robinson Nebraska, Camp Rimini Montana, and San Carlos, California -- and a fourth in April 1943 at Cat Island, Gulfport, Mississippi. Small temporary training centers were set up at Beltsville, Maryland, and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, when it was decided to train mine detection dogs. This highly specialized training was later transferred to the San Carlos War Dog Reception and Training Center, California.

The centers at Front Royal and Fort Robinson were located at permanent remount installations while the others were independent establishments Camp Rimini, situated in a region in the Rocky, Mountains where the snow lay on the ground for many months of the year, was utilized exclusively for the training of sled and pack dogs. Cat Island was used for tactical training because its semi- tropical climate and dense vegetation made it a suitable place to prepare dogs for use in jungle warfare.

All of these centers, except the one at Fort Robinson, were discontinued during the latter half of 1944, by the summer of that year the Allied military situation had improved to the extent that the need for dogs to assist in guarding United States coast lines and zone of interior installations had virtually disappeared, As a result the number of sentry dogs returned began to exceed by far the number issued. Training activities which were then being devoted increasingly to the instruction of scout dogs, 'Were concentrated thereafter at the Nebraska post.

In 1942 and 1943, when practically all of the dogs were trained to perform the comparatively simple tasks involved in sentry duty more than thirty breeds of both sexes were considered suitable for military service. Experience revealed, however, that even for sentry duty some breeds were unsatisfactory. Among these were Great Danes, whose large size made them difficult to train, and hunting breeds in general because they were too easily diverted by animal scents. By the fail of 1944 the number of preferred breeds had been reduced to seven, German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs,, Doberman-Pinschers, farm collies, Siberian huskies, Malamutes and Eskimo dogs. Crosses of these breeds also were acceptable. 

MWD History # 2




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