Friday, August 12, 2011

When the Dog was a Soldier in Arms


The domestic dog (Canis Lupus Familiaris) is the domestic animal, which was the first to be tamed by man - and it shares the longest history with us. The dog was throughout history used for hunting, as watch dog, war dog, bloodhound, rescue dog - or just our friend and companion. It is a service dog for blind and disabled people and works for the police as their rescue dog, it is tracing drugs or works as a therapy-dog. A dog is also able to sniff his way to a cancer and to predict epileptic  seizures.

Dogs and War

Dogs and war go back a long way. More than 4.000 years ago the ancient Assyrians, the Persians and the Babylonians used Mastiffs, wearing spiked collars, to attack their enemies. The Romans were the first to train war dog-units. The dogs wore spiked collars and armour, and unleashed in the forward line of the battle they attacked the enemies legs, causing them to lower their shields and be more vulnerable to attack. Attila, king of the Huns from 433 AD until his death in 453 AD, used giant Molossian dogs, precursors of the Mastiff, and Talbots, ancestors of the Bloodhound, in his campaigns.



Ancient Egyptian wall writings, thought by some to date back to 4.000 BC, depict savage dogs, straining on leashes held in the hands of Egyptian warriors, and leaping on their enemy. Ancient Egyptians raised Saluki hunting dogs. Saluki means noble one.In Iraque show the old Assyrian temple walls bas reliefs of huge Mastiff battle dogs, wearing spiked iron collars, to create fear among enemies. The regions of Rome used both giant Mastiffs and Molossian hounds while civilizing the western world, according to their scribes.  Attila the Hun used a drove of large dogs to stand as entries around his camps, so as not to be surprised by his enemies. 

A little story about the dog Delta in Pompei: It was found stretched out beside a child. Delta wore a silver collar which told that he belonged to Servenius? whose life he had saved from a wolf.

Pliny the Elder wrote of squadrons of fierce dogs, that fought in the ranks beside the Colophonians of Asia Minor against the Ionian enemies. After the battle was over, they were harnessed to carts hauling treasure back home. In Roman times and in the Middle Ages ran mastiffs into battle against mounted knights wearing light armour and  carrying spikes and pots of flaming sulphur and resin.

William the conqueror

Bloodhounds were first imported to England just about the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and quite possibly by William the Conqueror, who was also regarded as a great hunts man. William the Conqueror used such hounds back home in France to support his troops as well as to run down opponents of the family regime. When William took forces to England in 1066, his St. Hubert hounds guarded and defended his army camps and followed remaining dissenters to the end of any trail. 

Moss troopers
Edward I Longshanks used bloodhounds on his borders of Scotland to track down the notorious "moss troopers" ; their raids across the borders became so outrageous that the government ordered a train of warning beacons to be established and tracking dogs kept  in the various districts to assist the crown forces.
On occassions Longshank's bloodhounds quarry was of noble birth. Robert the Bruce escaped them only by wading down stream to lose his scent - and much later in history they ran down the luckless duke Monmouth after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.

The bloodhound who takes his name from blooded hound or purebred, traces back to the St. Hubert hounds of the seventh century AD, when everybody who was anybody kept their own pack of dogs.In Europe the Middle Ages saw the purebred dog become the prized possession of kings, noblemen and surprisingly church officials, as a new age developed for the dog, when hunting for sport became popular. Dogs were crucial participants in the hunt, and specialized breeds were developed to fulfill  various roles. Nobles kept large packs of hunting dogs, including those that used sight or scent to hunt, and Mastiffs, large dogs, used against boar and stag. Emperor Maximilian had 1500 dogs.

In 1518 good king Henry VIII of England presented 400 battle mastiffs with iron collars to Charles V of Spain, then at war with France. The Spanish mastiffs were set on the French dogs in the siege of Valencia, and drove them from the field with their tails between their legs. The English dogs perform such splendid service in the Renaissance that they were recommended by king Charles and held up as an example for his troups.  

In 1599 queen Elisabeth dispatched her court's favourite, the Earl of Essex as "Lord deputy of Ireland" with an army of 22.000 men, including a large force of bloodhounds, to put down the chieftain rebellion. Dogs had long been used against individual Irish, Scot and Welsh dissenters, but the Essex force of 800 hounds and their handlers may have been the first use of official war dogs in England.

During the Middle Ages were war dogs outfitted with armor and frequently used to defend caravans.
The Great Dane and the mastiff  accompanied their masters into battle fitted with spiked collars and occassionally their own suit of armor. A number of breeds were developed for a sport of another kind, bull and bear rating as well as rat catching and pit-bull fighting. To protect dogs against the hazards of antlers and tusks would the owners protect their dogs with padded quilt wests and on rare occassions plate and mail armor.

The English Mastiff and Greyhound became standardized recognizable breeds this time, as did a few of the herding breeds. The lap dog finally became popular in Europe, as the ladies of the court took to them as "comforters".  Even the dog collars became a measure of the dog's importance, some examples being made of gold, silver, white leather and velvet. Church documents show that it was common of the parishioners to bring their dogs to services with them as footwarmers. They became objects of a number of laws. The ownership of a Scottish deerhound or Greyhound was kept off limits from all but nobility.Gifts of war dog breeding stock between European royalty were seen as suitable tokens for exchange throughout the Middle Ages.

In the early part of the 14th century the French navy started to use attack dogs in France to guard naval dock installations. These were used up till 1770, when they were abolished after a young naval officer was unfortunately killed by one of the dogs.Battle between war dogs of opposing armies took place on several occassions, once during the Swiss-Burgundian war of 1476, and another during the battle of Merta - the Swiss dogs destroyed the canines of Burgundy.The Spanish conquistadors used armoured dogs that had been trained to kill and disembowel when they invaded the land controlled by South American natives.
The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminole Wars.  The American Pit Bull Terrier was used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages, and as mascots in American World War I propaganda and recruiting posters.

The dog is still used as the soldier's helper and rescue dog. The latest example from 2011 is unique: United States Navy Seals used a Belgian Malinois war dog named Cairo in Operation Neptune Spear, in which Osama bin Laden was killed.

Sources: K-9 Military History, War Dogs; Documentary History about Dogs; Wikipedia, War Dogs.

Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll probably still be a dog, sigh! There's so little hope for advancement.



Linda said...

The Saluki is so beautiful!

Teresa Evangeline said...

This is very interesting, Grethe. I looked at getting a Belgian Malinois, then I decided on a golden retriever. I'm very glad for my choice. I have mixed feelings about using dogs this way, but then I'm not so crazy about using humans to fight wars, either.

I think Snoopy should feel very grateful to remain a dog.:)

Thyra said...

Hello Linda! Yes it is the most beautiful dog, the Saluki - and it looks so fragile that it's difficult to understand that it was treated roughly.
They are not my own photos and it's the first time - and probably the last time - I have used others' photos in that degree.

Thyra said...

Hello Teresa!
I think it's because the dog has to do what we say. It has no other options. We have treated it badly for centuries, and it touches one's heart to read about it.

I didn't know this Belgian Malinois, before I read about the Navy Seal's operation.

All dogs should have a good life like your Buddy!

One of my colleagues had a golden retriever some years ago. It was the nicest and prettiest dog. When they were out walking, she had to tell it that a bike by the fence was not a dangerous thing, and she had to help the shivering dog to pass this bike!

Grethe ´)

Wanda..... said...

Did not see this post on my reader, but did just notice it on my sidebar, to which I should pay more attention. Your post was very interesting and informative, Grethe. "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" was a novel I enjoyed, mostly because of the interesting facts about the breeding of dogs, plus it was often told from a dog's point of view!

Thyra said...

Hej Wanda! I would like to read that novel. I'll look for it at the library.

Thank you for that wonderful tour on your blog today. It's so fantastic and I enjoyed it very much. The fawns are so beautiful and the flowers and everything out in nature. And your food ! I would like to eat at your table every day!

Grethe `)