War Dogs Through History

War Dogs Through History

Author WDF Staff


Dogs have been a “man’s best friends” for thousands of years and we have kept these animals for various reasons. When we think about dogs, we mostly think about loving companions that are a part of our families and have been for the longest time. But there is also a different story behind them.

A “man’s best friend” could also be another man’s worst nightmare, especially if that man is facing a fully trained, powerful dog of war.

Humans have used dogs in battles for many years and we now know that dogs have been extremely successful in those roles. Using dogs in wars dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. One of the earliest written records of dog breeds that were used as war dogs was made by the Greek philosopher Aristotle that described the Molossus.

Molossus - the father of all war dogs

The Molossus is an extinct dog breed that was developed in the ancient Molossian kingdom located in the mountainous region of Greece, especially Epirus. They were huge, powerful, muscular, and fearless dogs that were employed as livestock guardians.

After a while, the Greeks figured out that they could use these dogs to drive fear at the hearts of their enemies. We could only imagine how fearful these dogs looked with armor and while running at full speed at the opposing armies. Molossus dogs had many roles in ancient Greece and even the modern cynology breed specification has a “Molossian-type dogs”.

These dogs are believed to be the ancestors of many modern breeds such as the English Mastiff, Cane Corso, Presa Canario, and many others. The most famous war these dogs were used in was when Alyattes of Lydia fought against the Cimmerians around 600 BC. Alyattes used large, muscular dogs as sentries and dogs managed to kill some of the invaders and helped Alyattes defend his kingdom.

soldier with a dog

Roman war dogs

The Roman empire was once the greatest empire on earth and they were able to gain resources from all over their empire. One of their big resources were dogs. Romans loved their dogs and they had dogs that filled many roles - those of a companion, protection dogs, and war dogs.

After the Romans invaded Greece, they were very impressed with their dogs so they took them back to Rome. They continued to use the Greek Molossus for war efforts and used these dogs in many gladiator battles. They even organized battles between 4 or 5 dogs against tigers.

Pretty soon, the large Molossus started breeding with Roman dogs and it is widely believed that the Cane Corso and the Neapolitan Mastiff are direct descendants of the Greek Molossus. Many historical artworks depict Roman armies with large, dark-colored, Molossian-type dogs that look a lot like the modern-day Cane Corso with cropped ears.

One Roman legend says that Marcus Aurelius used these dogs in their war efforts. The legend says that they used spiked collars and metal armor on their dogs. These dogs were leading the charge and had to break enemy ranks. Some dogs were fitted with flaming bowls of oil and charged under the enemy’s cavalry to destabilize their riders. We are sure that would be an incredible and a fearful sight to see.

skydiving dog

War dogs in World Wars

The biggest conflicts in the history of the world would be World War I. and World War II. Countless lives were lost and some scars are still left today. There were unspeakable acts done and we do not want to go through that topic as it is widely known. What is less known is that both sides used many dogs that served different jobs.

World War I

Dogs played a lot of roles in the first World War and these animals took a huge hit as well. Over a million dogs were killed in the First World War. International military forces used war dogs to deliver important messages across vast territories and without them, who knows what might have happened. They also played the role of a sentry and an early warning for surprise attacks.

An American dog called Stubby was a war dog used by the American army and he served 18 months. He was involved in 17 different battles and it is said that he captured a German spy. He was later promoted to a sergeant and became a mascot for Georgetown University.

soldier and dog

World War II

Both sides used a lot of war dogs for different roles in World War II. Those dogs served as messengers, sentry, guard, protection, and attack dogs. One of the cruelest things that happened to dogs of World War II is that the Russian army used to train dogs to run under German tanks with mines strapped to their backs. Mines exploded and severely damaged German tanks and killed the dogs.

The American army didn’t have many war dogs at that time, only a handful of Arctic sled dogs for northern actions. Those were mostly Husky-type dogs that weren’t combat trained. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the civilians formed DFD (Dogs for Defense) and started donating civilian dogs for training and the army. Pretty soon they had many dogs that helped American soldiers take back islands from the Japanese occupation. Breeds that the Americans used for their army efforts were the Doberman, Alaskan Malamute, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Huskies, Belgian Shepherds, and Eskimo dogs. The Doberman even became the official dog breed of the Marine Corps.

military dog

Modern-day war dogs

The armies worldwide continue to use war dogs to this day, although their roles are more specific and some breeds have been specifically bred for their military working abilities. Attack dogs are differentiated from sniffing and sentry dogs. They are fitted with special equipment and have been trained in specialized K-9 training facilities each army has opened for themselves.

The Russians started a program to create a new dog breed that could do a variety of different tasks from guarding, serving as a watchdog, protection dog, and an attack dog. They have created a dog that is known today as the Black Russian Terrier.

The Americans started specialized programs for dogs that specialized in explosives detection and the breed that was mostly used for that was the Labrador Retriever. They also have training for other varieties of jobs and use breeds like the German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd (Malinois), Doberman, and the Dutch Shepherd. Their jobs involve search and rescue, tracking, protecting, or explosive detection.

Dogs were used in many battles and wars, they were used as guards and attackers and can still perform many of those tasks, even better than they did before. They are truly amazing and we can be happy that we have such great animals in our every-day life.

World Dog Finder team