The Sanitary hounds or Sanitatshunde went on to the fields with saddlebags of medical supplies.
They looked for the wounded and comforted the dying. They were trained to either carry their short
leash in their mouth if they found wounded or to let it hang loose if they didn't. They were able to
distinguish between the dead and the apparently dead; the former they left untouched while the latter
they comforted. While the English and French armies found it impossible to employ ambulance dogs
on the western front, but the German army successfully used them, especially during the Russian
retreat on the eastern front, and thousands of German soldiers owed their lives to ambulance dogs.
Germany led the warring nations in the use of dogs in World War One and utilized over 30,000
canine soldiers. The Imperial German staff had begun to develop breeds of war dogs and they
established the world's very first Military War Dog School near Berlin in 1884, training dogs as
sentries and as messengers. The Germans tried using mostly gun dogs at first. Large Poodles were
selected for their intelligence and sharp scent, but poodles not only suffered in high heat, they were
short-sighted. Next, the St. Bernard was tried unsuccessfully, then the Pointer, who, although having
intelligence and physical strength, also had a deep rooted hunting instinct that was almost impossible
to eradicate. Scottish farm collies were considered as a potential war-dog, plus Airedales, and finally
the other newer breeds such as the German Shepherd, Doberman and the Boxer.
The Prince of Red Cross dogs in war was the Boxer. The Boxer also guarded and patrolled, acted as
messenger dogs and served as pack-carriers and attack dogs. The ancestors of German Pedigreed
“Boxers” were dogs owned by Kaiser Wilhelm and King Edward VII of England, the result of a cross
between the German Mastif (Great Dane) and the English Bulldog, a combination suggested by the
Kaiser. In 1894, three Germans decided to stabilize the breed and put it on exhibition at a dog show
in Munich in 1895. Ironically, the first U.S. Red Cross Dogs were a gift of six puppies from Kaiser
Wilhelm's own kennel that were given to the Red Cross by a private party in 1916.
Man's Best Friend ~ War Dogs
In the Trenches: Dogs don gas masks and a dog leap across a dangerous abyss
Dogs used in war eventually included Ratters to keep the trenches free of vermin, Sentinel Dogs to
give advance warnings, Mascots for troop morale, Messenger dogs and countless Red Cross Dogs
(also called Casualty, Ambulance or Mercy Dogs). Of 1,678 dogs sent to the front up to the end of
May 1915, 1,274 ended up being German shepherd-dogs, 142 Airedale terriers, 239 Dobermanns
and 13 Rottweilers.
The Germans began training their dogs at seven months old with a regimen of exercise, and the dogs
were allowed to associate only with their trainers and assistants. Barking was discouraged and the
dogs were not allowed to develop a taste for hunting game. They were positively trained using praise,
not punishment, and slowly inured to gunshots and other war noises.
Just a few years after Captain Max von Stephanitz founded the breed, the German Shepherd dog
became king of the military dogs. After 1907, the many enthusiastic German Shepherd clubs across
Germany were amalgamated into a large organization under the leadership of the Crown Prince and
the Imperial General Staff called "Der Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde". The German Shepherd
soon proved its ability to perform just about any assigned task as military dogs. Their courage
amazed not only the German soldiers, but the American and English military as well. In Germany
after the war, the German Shepherd became the first "seeing eye dog" to guide blinded soldiers.
The German Army had 6,000 trained war dogs at their ready war broke out 1914, and they went
straight to the fronts with their regiments. When the war was over, at least 7,000 war dogs from
Germany alone had been killed. They had spared thousands of soldiers' lives.
Messenger-dogs constituted an integral part of the German army. a job that required great courage
and skill, sometimes under heavy fire, to carry messages between troops. They also transported
communications wires by wearing a spool of wire that unwound as the dog ran between its battlefield
limits. An infantry regiment was allotted a maximum of 12 dogs, while a battalion might have six, the
allotments being made by the Messenger Dog Section (Meldehundstaffel) at the Army Headquarters.
The breeds chiefly employed for message carrying work were German sheep-dogs, Dobermanns,
Airedale terriers, and Rottweilers. The Germans employed the dogs on the " liaison " principle with
two keepers and the dog travelling backwards and forwards between both. In the British army the
messenger-dog was trained only to make the return journey to the one keeper.
People used dogs in battle long before WW One. We can see them in murals and on artifacts from
Babylonia, Egypt and Greece from thousands of years ago. Dogs were used by the Greeks at the
Battle of Marathon. The Romans used war dogs and maintained whole companies of them. They
wore ferocious spiked collars on both their necks and ankles. Occasionally, they starved them before
unleashing them on a foe. They used the "Molossian dogs of Epirus", who were the "top dog" until
the Mastiffs (Pugnaces Britanniae) were born and bred in Britain. The Celts used dogs, too. Knights
in Medieval times also used dogs in battle, as did the Spaniards and even the American colonial
armies, who used them for tracking.
Napoleon's armies used dogs as well. After the Battle of Marengo, Napoleon said, "I walked over the
battlefield and saw among the slain, a poodle bestowing a last lick upon his dead friend's face. Never
had anything on any of my battlefields caused me a like emotion." Yes, large Poodles were war dogs.