Humans and dogs share a long history together. Of course, as much as human history has had it’s gruesome moments, the history of dogs has shared those moments with us. Some of the first roles of dogs in the military were as guard dogs in the armies of the ancient empires. The Huns trained giant Molossian dogs for use in battle, the Britons outfitted their mastiffs in spiked collars and chain mail, and the Romans formed platoons of attack dogs to use against infantry and cavalry. From the Egyptians, to the Greeks, to the Persians, it could be said that every great empire of the ancient world included dogs in their armies. Of course, as technology improved, and firearms become common-place on the battlefield, the role of dogs as attackers in the military became obsolete. Since then, countries have made attempts to include dogs in offensive military roles with limited success. The Soviet Union made attempts to train dogs to deliver explosive payloads to the under-sides of German tanks. Of course, the chaos of the modern battlefield, the inability for their dogs to distinguish between German and Russian tanks, and the ultimate demise of the dog upon detonation of the explosives all contributed to the end of this practice.
The roles of modern military working dogs, as well as the breeds used, lend themselves to the emergence of dogs as messengers, sentries and scouts. The use of messenger-dogs during the Seven Years’ War, guard dogs for the French navy during the 1770s, and the increased use of canine abilities to hunt and track snipers has led to a focus on intelligence and dexterity over raw power. While descendants of the original Mastiff breeds used by ancient Britons still perform guard and tracking duties in military and police roles today, the German Shepherd has enjoyed it’s place among the top breeds for military working dogs since the early 1900s. Originally bred in Germany for their intelligence, they quickly gained popularity throughout Europe, and even in America. However, the Germans continued to not only breed more intelligent and capable German Shepherds, but also German Shepherd puppies who were more capable of beginning training at a young age. Throughout the course of the Second World War, German military dogs, trained as early as five or six months old, easily outclassed dogs used by the allies. The reputation of German military dogs was so great that it prompted the US to begin what was known as the “Million-Dollar Dog Program” in an attempt to match the superiority of the military dogs used by the Germans. Soon after, the war ended, as did the Million-Dollar Dog program. However, both the German breeds as well as the practice of beginning training at five to six months has continued on in today’s military working dogs.