Patrol and sentry dogs

Military dogs have been used for thousands of years. It's likely that dogs were even involved in stone-age warfare.

Their value as fighters has been diminished against all but unarmed opposition, but their superior senses (especially smell and hearing) are still valuable.

Modern military working dog training is specialized; it's highly uncommon to train a dog for narcotics detection, explosives detection and tracking at once.

I am not very much interested in these functions anyway; my interest focuses more on their value in detecting enemies in closed terrain and as morale boost in the field.

Modern battlefields are empty; most soldiers don't see enemies for weeks and some do never see enemies. That's a problem, for they need to stay alert despite being bored.

Modern conventional wars would also have no continuous defensive lines as necessary to infiltration. All troops need to pull their own security, even many kilometres away from all known enemy positions.

The combination of these two problems made me think about sentry and patrol dogs for a while. I had a dog for many years and like dogs very much; military dogs are really interesting.

Since the function of scout dogs was to give silent warning of the approach of any enemy they were trained for use principally with reconnaissance and combat patrols at outposts. Their chief tasks were to warn of ambushes or attempts at infiltration. Though the distance at which they were able to give warning depended upon a number of factors, such as the ability of the master to understand his dog, wind direction and velocity, volume or concentration of human scent humidity, and denseness or openness of country the dogs usually could detect the presence of enemies long before the men became aware of them.
The presence of the animals with patrols greatly lessened the danger of ambush and tended to boost the morale of the soldiers. Personnel who used the dogs stated that they saved many lives and were enthusiastic over their value. It was noted that where a dog was present on a patrol there was a feeling of security and relief from the nervous tension caused by fear of an ambush. This enabled the patrols to operate more efficiently and cover greater distances.
That scout dogs did perform valuable service in the European Theater as well as in the Pacific is illustrated by one experience of the 33rd Quartermaster War Dog Platoon while serving with the Sixth South African Division of the Fifth Army in Italy. On the night of 20 December 1944 a small reconnaissance patrol led by one of the dogs of the platoon and his handler, Corporal Robert Bennett, left a forward outpost to investigate a village approximately a mile inside enemy territory.

A few hundred yards into the enemy territory the dog halted suddenly. Not yet sure of the scent he advanced a few steps then halted again, this time every hair bristling, his nose pointed straight ahead. The patrol leader crept cautiously forward alone and not more than 200 yards away discovered a large group of German soldiers in ambush. With this valuable information the patrol returned to the outpost where they called for mortar fire to wipe out the enemy position.

There's the question of dog breed:

The German army and some others seem to prefer the Belgian Shepherd breed, sub variety "Malinois". Others breeds as for example Labrador, German Shepherd and Rottweiler are also in wide-spread military service.
The Malinois is very similar to the German Shepherd dog except that it's lighter built, tougher and has less breeding-related defects.

German Malinois breeding is only in the hundreds of whelps per year and many of them would be ineligible for military employment due to their character (the breed ranges from courageous to coward) or health. It would furthermore be preferable to use male dogs for military service because of the relatively small breeding base.

Such a Malinois breed working dog can be in service for about eight years after training and before he gets too old.

The preference for such a relatively large dog (25-34 kg) has logistical consequences, for it consumes more food and water than smaller dogs would do.

Training and care

The training begins at about 1 -1.5 years of age and takes about 35-40 weeks. The dog handler should be the same for years if not for the whole service time. The handler treats the dog as his private dog, just with full material and medical support by the Bundeswehr.
Old German military working dogs don't get euthanised when too old for service; their handlers either keep them or -exceptionally- give them back to the Bundeswehr for caring till their death.

Veterinaries have become rare in modern armies since we got rid of almost all horses (Germany has a few mules left for the mountain troops). A wide-spread use of dogs would likely require additional veterinaries, or an extra dog-specific training for normal medics.


The necessary equipment is rather cheap and light: A chord, a muzzle, a fragmentation protection vest (not in hot climate), additional water containers and some kind of protection for cold nights.

There are dedicated dog trailers and dog kennels, but I seriously doubt their necessity.

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Dogs are non-technical, no-buzz - and their employment usually spikes in wartime. WWI, WWII, Vietnam War, Iraq War - the dog's military value was often rediscovered in wars, and mostly ignored in peacetime.
Reports received from overseas during and immediately following the war gave ample evidence that while many satisfactory results were obtained from the use of scout dogs in the war against Germany, these animals were employed much more effectively in the islands of the Pacific. The dense tropical vegetation and the semidarkness of the jungles even at midday afforded the Japanese excellent opportunities to infiltrate behind the American lines and conduct reconnaissance. Such hostile operations could not easily be detected by ordinary patrols. When dogs accompanied these patrols they were able to detect and give silent warning of the enemy long before the men became aware of them. The dogs could also be used to good advantage in mountainous areas, in river bottoms, and in heavily wooded terrain.

I think we should fix this cycle. I recommend experiment with dogs in much more missions than only military police, EOD, combat tracking. I'm thinking of one dog & dog handler per platoon, in the field but this usage could even be increased to squad level.

So far the Bundeswehr has as far as I know about 200 military dogs in military police (128) and paratrooper (72) units, plus a few others. The level of usage could be expanded into the thousands at low cost in a few years. Emphasis: Low cost.

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I'm not sure whether dogs and dog handlers should be pooled and centralized. A dog platoon per battalion would work fine in some regards (expertise, ability to replace individual losses), but it would be very suboptimal in other regards (training, cohesion). I guess that's something that needs to be worked out by experience.

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There's one thing I'd like to caution about, though: Dogs are easily countered in the explosives detection role. The German army used explosives detection dogs to search for mines along railways in WW2, and the partisans simply adapted by scattering small amounts of explosives powder along the railway lines, thereby diminishing the utility of the dogs.
This should also be kept in mind with the expensive technical means of sniffing that were funded and developed by technology-believers who were apparently devoid of military history appreciation since 2001.

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  1. "Veterinaries have become rare in modern armies since we got rid of almost all horses."

    Of course you know that veterinary units are plentiful in the US Army, and are responsible for food inspection services, inspecting commissaries, farms where food for troops is procured, food storage facilities etc.

    US Americans still use pack mules, and still have horses as well, as at Ft. Hood and Arlington National Cemetery. The Army even has a few farriers around.

  2. No, I didn't. Such administrative functions of the U.S. forces don't interest me as a German.

    Anyway; a multiplication of animals in use would require additional veterinaries unless the old ones are extremely underemployed.

  3. The Wehrmach relied heavily on horses for transport, off the rail system, in Nortwest Europe as late as VE day.


  4. You didn't know. That still makes the quoted statement incorrect.

  5. Nope, it doesn't.

    The Wehrmacht began WW2 with 573,000 horses and therefore huge quantities of veterinaries. 30 per infantry division (5,000 horses) = thousands of veterinaries. Today the Bundeswehr has probably a few dozen.

    "rare" isn't the same as "none" for those who have neither problems with understand text nor with logic.

  6. Sven,

    This site may be of interest: