Dog history - dogs of war

Narrated from: Dog History

People associate dogs either with the lovable canine companion sleeping by the fireplace, or with wolf packs howling in a frozen forest.

However, dogs are often described as the real werewolves of legend – they stand somewhere between the world of the wild and the world of men. However, unlike their howling predecessors, dogs have often gone to war, and still do.

War is not a natural state in the animal kingdom. In the jungle, the closest thing is the ancient law “Eat or be eaten”. However, dogs have joined their fates with their human companions – and it was humanity which introduced to the world the concept of war.
Roman attack dogs

Dogs that went to war in the past weren’t the lovable pets that you would walk in the park – they were bred for killing. Egyptians and Lydians used dogs in combat long before the birth of Christ. However, it was the Romans that fully developed the idea. After dogs were used against the Roman legions and managed to delay an inevitable victory, the crafty Romans quickly adopted the approach. They bred English Mastiffs and trained them for war. These huge and powerful dogs wore special armor covered with spikes. Whole battalions were unleashed on the battlefield to break enemy formations. Historians claimed that war dogs didn’t back down even when confronted with swords.

Later on, the infamous Attila the Hun adopted this Roman idea while crushing the Western Roman Empire. He used giant Molosser dogs – the Macedonian cousin of the English Mastiff.

Medieval knights

The practice for using dogs for military purposes carried on. In the Middle Ages, dogs wore armor much like medieval knights and protected trade caravans on insecure routes.
War dogs accompanied the Conquistadors in their predatory conquest of South America. According to military historians, these dogs were a mixture of wolfhound, deerhound, and mastiff, and stood at about 2½ ft (75 cm) tall at the shoulder.

However, the most notorious fighters in this age were Irish Wolfhounds. The Irish used Wolfhounds to tackle mounted knights. Two wolfhounds, or even a single one, could take down an armored knight to the ground – and a fallen knight is as much use as a flipped over turtle!

Modern Warfare

Today, dogs are still used on the battlefield. Dogs serve as sentries, trackers, scouts, detection dogs, and messengers. Attack dogs today are mainly used for sentry duty; such dogs rarely take the battlefield during real combat.

There is much debate about whether dogs should be allowed in the military – but while soldiers march to foreign battlefields, man’s best friend is sure to follow. Dogs probably will remain involved in warfare – at least until some fictional day when humanity finally finds common sense and war becomes a thing of the past…

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