War Dogs History: The Great War Experience World War I

Published: 10 April 2024

via the United States War Dog Association website

War Dog helmet

A 1918 painting by Alexander Pope portrays a Red Cross dog with a chemical attack or smoke in the background. The helmet indicates that a wounded soldier has been found. (Red Cross Museum).

The setting for World War I is unique, and it is difficult to comprehend the immense scale of destruction and suffering endured by millions of people. Most of the time was spent in static positions. Soldiers squatted down in trenches as each side engaged in furious battles to gain just a few yards of real estate. Between the combatants lay no-man’s land. It was here under the cloak of darkness that many dogs worked and achieved great success.

Dogs employed during WWI provided three main services: Red Cross dogs, often called mercy dogs that located wounded soldiers. Other dogs were trained for messenger duty, transportation of pigeons, and sentry detail. Still others were recruited as ammunition and light gun carriers, laying communication wires, and scouting. Hundreds of Jack Russell terriers were working to combat the hordes of rats that often infested the trenches. A conservative estimate of all the warring factions involved places the number of dogs employed at nearly 50,000!

If you happen to be travelling in New York just outside the city, you may want to stop at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery and view a striking monument of a German shepherd. The plaque reads, “Dedicated to the memory of the war dog. Erected by public contribution by dog lovers to man’s faithful friend for the valiant services rendered in the World War, 1914-1918.” Those who helped establish the memorial had no idea at the time that this was not the “war to end all wars.” The likeness of the shepherd, lean and bearing Red Cross markings can evoke many feelings. What struck me first are the eyes, as the dog seems to gaze beyond you, searching for something or someone – a dog in the midst of his work.

The war dog memorial at the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York was dedicated to commemorating all the dogs that served during WWI (Michael Lemish)

The Red Cross dogs – or sanitary dogs (Sanitäshunde), as the Germans called them, provided wounded men with two essential services. They carried medical supplies and small canteens of water or spirits that were typically attached across the dog’s chest or with a saddlebag arrangement. The wounded man, if conscious, could avail himself of these supplies. The second and primary mission for the dog is once a wounded man was found to communicate this to his handler. How this was accomplished is truly remarkable. These animals would be the forerunners to today’s search and rescue dogs – with one caveat – nowadays SAR dogs do not need to deal with artillery or deadly mustard and phosgene gases to accomplish their task.

Read the entire article on the United States War Dog Association web site.
External Web Site Notice: This page contains information directly presented from an external source. The terms and conditions of this page may not be the same as those of this website. Click here to read the full disclaimer notice for external web sites. Thank you.


Share this article

Related posts