War Dog Background

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The interest in using dogs by the U. S. Marine Corps began in 1935 when Central American guerrilla soldiers used dogs as sentries to alert the soldiers. Additionally, the Germans utilized canine troops in World War I. This lead to the use of dogs in combat duringWorld War II as scouts, couriers, and infantry dogs, where the dogs were ideally suited to the dense tropical vegetation of the Pacific islands.

Camp LeJeune, North Carolina was the home of the war Dog Training School, where dogs began their training with the rank of private; war dogs actually could out-rank their handlers. Seven War Dog Platoons were trained at Camp LeJeune.

Soldier with dog
Doberman watching out for soldier
war dog

The breed of choice for the combat dog was the Doberman pinscher. German tax collector Louis Doberman first developed this versatile breed in the Apolda region of Germany to suit his own need for a loyal, obedient, fiercely protective dog to accompany him in his rounds as a tax collector. Later, the dogs were trained as police dogs in 19th Century Germany. During WWII, approximately 75% of dogs used during combat were Doberman pinschers, with 25% German Shepherds. Through a non-profit organization, Dogs for Defense, the public could loan their family dogs to the Marine Corps. The Doberman Pinscher Club of America also supplied many of the war dogs.

Each dog went through a rigorous course of obedience for a period of six weeks. After basic training, the dogs were divided into groups for specialized training: scout, messenger or infantry. Scout dogs were sent first with the handler to detect mines or enemy troops. Messenger dogs would follow their handler’s trail and carry correspondence or supplies. Infantry dogs alerted the troops of the enemy’s presence.

The dogs used signals to alert the soldiers of Japanese presence as they were trained not to bark. The dogs could detect a human scent up to one-half mile away. During the war, the Japanese ambushed none of the War Dog platoons. Each of the seven War Dog platoons fought in various locations in the Pacific during WWII, including Guam, Okinawa, and Guadalcanal.

In August 1945, the war Dog Platoons were disbanded. Many of the dogs were retrained for civilian life and sent back to their families, while several remained with their handlers. There were 1,047 dogs enlisted during the war, with 465 serving in combat. Twenty-five dogs died during service in the Pacific during the war.

Through of the efforts of Dr. William W. Putney, a WWII veteran and member of a War Dog platoon, the first War Dog Memorial, a life-size bronze of a Doberman pinscher, was unveiled on the U. S. Naval Base on Guam during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of that island.
-Dana Prince