War dog history

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column
By: Gail T. Fisher

I was doing some research on the Internet, when I came across a reference to the first American war dogs in World War II. As so often happens when researching one subject, I got side-tracked into following links, learning more and more about early military dog training programs in the U.S.

Formal programs for training military dogs started in Germany in the late 1800’s. By World War I, Germany had 30,000 dogs serving as messengers, sentries, scouts, food carriers, ambulance dogs, and more. Other European nations also had military dog training programs. The U.S. did not. We borrowed some dogs from the British and French for sentinel and messenger duties during the first World War and used other dogs, small terriers, as YMCA Cigarette Dogs, bringing cartons of cigarettes to the troops in the front lines. And then there were the mascots – dogs adopted by the troops for entertainment, affection, and as a morale boost.

In World War II, for the first time, America developed its own military dog training program. The first 15 dogs trained by Marines at Camp Pendleton in California were Doberman Pinschers. Both the Doberman and the German Shepherd Dog were relatively young breeds – established in the late 1800’s, and had been selectively bred in Germany with the temperaments and characteristics of excellent working dogs.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Doberman – the breed of choice of the German military – was firmly entrenched in peoples’ minds with Fascism, Nazism, and other totalitarian “isms.” Bred as service dogs in times of war, Dobermans were viewed by the public as aggressive, fearsome, unpredictable and dangerous. The truth is that a service dog must have an outstanding, sound temperament, receiving intense training to create a good working dog.

At our recent All Pet Festival, Officer Chris Biron and his six-year-old German Shepherd Anika put on wonderful demonstrations of the training, control and intelligence of the dogs trained as “police dogs.” Unquestionably the most popular demonstrations at the Festival, Chris and his fellow officers acting as decoys for Anika put on a great show. Chris’ demonstration started with his favorite human helpers, his three young sons romping with Anika, showing that, far from being vicious, these well-trained dogs are normal dogs. They live with families, are social and friendly, and ready with absolutely no notice to protect their human partners and family if necessary.

We occasionally get calls from dog owners who are not looking for behavioral or training advice, but want to find a new home for their dogs. Sometimes they’ll ask if we think the police would like their dog – after all, he’s aggressive! Since we can’t answer for the police, we always suggest the person calls their police department to ask, but we do explain that police canines are dogs of sound temperament that are well-trained to bite under specific circumstances, rather than aggressive dogs of questionable temperament.

Military and police service dogs are not bred for “aggression”; they’re trained to do specific work — which includes biting the bad guys, if necessary. The result is that the working breeds that were used during wartimes, such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers got reputations as being “aggressive.” The mere belief about these dogs’ aggressive temperaments increased their popularity with people who are attracted to aggressive, fearsome, unpredictable and dangerous dogs. This isn’t the average family person; it’s marginalized members of society – thugs, bullies and other unpleasant people.

Increased popularity creates increased demand. To meet the demand, people who have these dogs breed them, whether they’re “breed-worthy” or not. By breed-worthy I mean possessing the necessary good temperament characteristics, physical health and genetic clearances that breeders strive for when their goal is breed improvement.

More next week on this and the dangers of breed-specific legislation – a growing problem across the nation and around the world.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2007. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com
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