How Were Dogs Trained & Used In WW1?

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Key Takeaways

  • Dogs played various critical roles in WW1, including messengers, sentry, scout, and medic dogs.
  • Specialized obedience and task-oriented training prepared dogs for their specific roles on the battlefield.
  • The use of dogs in WW1 significantly influenced modern dog training methods and programs.

Dogs were trained and used in WW1 to assist soldiers, and they saved many lives. But how were they trained for such complex tasks?

Dogs were put through rigorous training procedures like police or guard dogs are today. Many dogs acted as sentry dogs, scout dogs, casualty dogs, and messenger dogs. Training requirements involved a combination of obedience training and specialized skills training.

This guide explores how dogs were utilized in World War I, highlighting their training methods, various roles, and the notable canines and handlers that left an indelible mark on history. Keep reading to find out more.

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How Were Dogs Trained & Used In WW1?

During World War I, dogs played a crucial role in various military tasks for European armies. From hauling machine guns and supply carts to serving as messengers in dangerous situations, our canine companions proved their worth on the battlefield.

At the time, Germany had trained thousands of German shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, while the French and English established official war dog schools, training breeds such as Airedales, sheep dogs, and collies for their respective military forces.

Sentry dogs were among the many roles dogs played during the First World War. These loyal military dogs were trained to work closely with a specific guard, accompanying them on patrol with a short lead.

Their primary responsibility was to deliver warning signals like growls or barks when they sensed an unknown or unwelcome person in a designated area.

Another incredible responsibility of dogs during the war was serving as casualty dogs or medic dogs. These canines and guard dogs were extensively trained to locate wounded soldiers on the battlefield, helping save countless lives.

All types of dog breeds were involved in the wars. They were better suited to maneuver through the war’s rat-infested trenches while carrying first aid kits too. This saved multiple soldiers throughout the wars.

The Role of Dogs in World War 1

Dogs played a huge part in the war, and dogs were trained for different tasks. It’s also known that American soldiers captured German dogs on multiple occasions. Below are some of the dog’s roles during the war.

Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs were trained to work with one specific guard and would join them on patrols on a short lead. They were often trained to deliver a warning signal, like a growl or bark when they detected an unknown or unwelcome person in a specific area.

This helped a wounded soldier stay aware of potential threats and kept their posts more secure during the war. These dogs played a vital role in maintaining the safety of their human companions on the battlefield.

Scout Dogs

Scout dogs were another critical aspect of the war effort. They were trained to detect enemy soldiers, artillery, and other threats through their keen sense of smell.

This allowed the scout dogs to warn soldiers of approaching danger, increasing their awareness and reaction time. Their ability to remain silent while detecting threats made them an invaluable asset during recon missions and in navigating the perils of the Western Front.

Casualty Dogs

Casualty dogs, also known as first aid or Red Cross dogs, were responsible for locating and helping wounded soldiers on the battlefield. These dogs were trained for months to search for injured soldiers, even amidst the chaos and noise of the battlefield.

They would carry medical supplies and assistance to those in need, often saving lives by reaching the wounded before human medics could. Their dedication and skilled training played an important role in saving countless lives throughout the war.

Messenger Dogs

Lastly, messenger dogs played a crucial role in communication during WW1. They were used to carry messages between various units and command posts across the battlefield. These dogs were chosen for their speed, endurance, and ability to navigate through the war-torn landscape without being detected.

They proved to be highly reliable, especially in situations where other forms of communication were difficult or impossible. Their role in maintaining communication lines was essential in planning and executing strategies throughout the war.

Training Techniques and Methods

Obedience Training

As we uncovered the history of dogs' roles in WW1, it is clear that obedience training played a significant role in their effectiveness. Dogs were trained to understand a wide range of hand signals and to respond to specific commands, ensuring a strong bond with their handlers.

This foundational obedience training allowed dogs to navigate the complexities of war, including carrying messages between trenches and locating wounded soldiers.

By effectively training dogs in obedience, they were prepared to face the challenges of the battlefield alongside human soldiers.

Specialized Skills

In addition to basic obedience training, dogs in WW1 were taught specialized skills to serve their roles better. For example, casualty dogs, also known as "mercy dogs", were trained to look for wounded soldiers in the battlefield.

The level of sophistication in their training was remarkable, as they could ignore dead bodies and focus on locating the wounded.

Dogs also played a crucial role as messengers during WWI. E. H. Richardson, a significant figure in training war dogs, began a training school focusing on teaching dogs to deliver messages between trenches.

This specialized training allowed them to navigate complex and dangerous environments while maintaining their obedience to their handlers.

Through obedience training and specialized skill development, dogs served various roles on the battlefield during WW1. Their dedication, loyalty, and effectiveness have earned them a special place in the history of warfare.

Notable Dogs and Their Handlers

Sergeant Stubby

We'd like to introduce you to an amazing dog named Sergeant Stubby, who became famous for his bravery and loyalty during World War I. Stubby was a stray dog who was adopted by a U.S. soldier named Corporal Robert Conroy.

While Stubby wasn't officially trained as a military dog, he quickly learned how to help his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. Stubby served in 17 battles, warning his unit of poison gas attacks and locating wounded soldiers.

He could even salute his officers by raising his right paw to his forehead. Stubby is known for saving multiple soldiers who were asleep during a German mustard gas attack.


Another remarkable dog from World War I is Rags, a mixed-breed terrier who served with the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Private James Donovan found rags in Paris, and the two quickly became inseparable.

Rags proved to be an invaluable asset on the battlefield as a messenger dog, carrying notes between troops to relay important information. Rags' incredible sense of direction allowed him to navigate through the dangerous trenches and deliver crucial messages that helped save many lives.

He also served as a lifeline for isolated units, providing them with the information they needed to stay in the fight. Rags' bravery and loyalty earned him the admiration and respect of all who encountered him.

Impact on Modern Dog Training

During World War 1, dogs played a crucial role in various operations, and their training methods left a lasting impact on modern dog training techniques.

One example of this specialized training is the French first aid dogs, which spent months preparing to locate and help wounded soldiers on the battlefields.

In WW1, countries like Germany and France utilized German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, and English breeds such as Airedales, sheepdogs, and collies based on their strengths and temperaments.

This recognition has since led to the development of specialized programs, like war dog schools, which train dogs according to their breed's inherent abilities.

In addition to breed-specific training, we also realized the importance of task-specific training. During WW1, sentry dogs were trained to work closely with a single guard and alert them when they detected unknown or unwanted individuals in a specific area.

This concept of task-oriented training continues to be a core component of modern dog training programs, such as those for service dogs, search and rescue dogs, and therapy dogs.