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Canines of War: Dogs throughout Military History

Dogs have been used for military purposes for millennia...

Canines of War: Dogs throughout Military History

Though their specific uses have changed throughout the millennia, dogs or warhounds have been staple tools of military warfare. On International Dog Day, we’re taking a brief look at the Canines of War…

Dogs were used by such widespread civilizations as Romans, Greeks, Sarmatians, Egyptians, Britons amongst many others. Their first recorded use in battle, according to Classical sources, dates to around 600 BC, in which Alyattes of Lydia defended against the Cimmerians.

Attack Dogs

It has not always been possible to decipher the role of dogs from certain campaigns or battles, but there is sufficient evidence in texts and murals to suggest important roles throughout history- for example, Indian hounds accompanied the invasion of Xerxes I into Greece (480 BC), an attack by Bituito, King of the Arverni attacked Romans led by Consul Fabius (120 BC) used only dogs, and the Spanish conquistadors used large breeds extensively against the Native Americans (the 1500s). Napoleon was another notable advocate of dogs, using them in a similar capacity to modern sentry dogs.

Ancient civilizations would rely upon large breeds such as mastiff or molosser (favoured by Attila the Hun) to attack the enemy, sometimes wearing armour or spiked collars. They were trained to ignore the chaos of battle and became slavering killers capable of breaking the lines of even the most disciplined of enemy soldiers.


The Ephesians developed a tactic in their 7th century BC war against Magnesia, in which each of their horsemen were accompanied by a war-dog and a spear-wielding attendant. The dogs would be unleashed upon the enemy first, to disrupt the enemy ranks, after which they would be subjected to an assault of spears, and finally the charge of the cavalry.

Other Military Uses

The use of ‘attack dogs’ over the course of history has diminished, though it is still a well-used practice by certain modern militaries, where dogs are employed to apprehend fleeing enemies, or to search crawl spaces too large or dangerous for a human.

One of the longest-held practices of military uses of dogs is in the sentry, or guard-dog role, defending camps or priority military targets by alerting the human element to the presence of strangers. Cappy, our new special book miniature for Campaign Mariana and Palau Islands was celebrated for alerting a camp to a large encroaching Japanese force, his intervention was key to the marines’ survival. The miniature is exclusive to orders of the book on the Warlord Webstore. Order here

Scout dogs were used as recently as World War II, Korea and Vietnam, both to locate booby traps and concealed enemy positions, where their senses of smell and hearing far outclassed those of any human – allowing for much greater efficiency in detection. They could even detect enemies hiding underwater, breathing only through reed straws.

One of the more unfortunate uses of dogs in warfare was as mine detectors. In their training, the dogs were subjected to a series of shocks by bare wire beneath the earth, resulting in a level of stress that resulted in the dogs being so nervous that they were only able to work for around 30 minutes at a time. The service life of such dogs was not long. Similarly disastrous, and unreliable, was the Soviet use of dogs in World War II as anti-tank weapons, in which they would be strapped with explosives.

Dogs were also used as messengers. In World War I, approximately 1 million dogs were killed enacting this function. Dogs would be despatched as silent messengers in the thick of battle. The trouble with this tactic was that a dog would need to be trained to be loyal to more than one master, lest they baulk in the chaos of warfare, delivering messages late or not at all.

WW2 Use by the United States

In World War Two, large dogs were employed in the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific theatre – mostly donated by their American owners. Whilst all breeds of dog were eligible to be “War Dogs of the Pacific”, it was the Doberman that became the official dog of the USMC.

The most decorated of United States Army dogs was Chips, a German Shepherd-Collie-Siberian Husky mix trained as a sentry. He served with the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and German. In one incident during the Sicily invasion, he and his handler were pinned down by enemy fire on a beach. Breaking from his handler, Chips leapt into the Italian pillbox and forced the four gunners to retreat. The same day, he was involved in the capture of ten Italian prisoners. Though he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, these commendations were later revoked as official army policy prevented the commendation of animals, despite his participation in eight separate campaigns. He survived the war and returned home.


On the Tabletop

Dogs have been a staple of warfare throughout the ages. Bring some canine companions to your battlefield with this collection of dog miniatures.

View the Collection


Dan Hewitson
Dan can often be found contemplating the mound of unpainted minis building up under his desk. He has a tendency to roll lots of ones. He also has a tendency to complain about rolling lots of ones.

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