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"British Training and Use of Dogs" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Report on British training and use of dogs in WWII, from the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on foreign tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]




The United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Germany are among the nations that recognize the importance of training dogs for war duties. The extensive use of dogs in World War I, as well as the popular peacetime activity of training dogs to take part in obedience trials, provided a backlog of experience for the men who now must train large numbers of dogs for work in the field. In nearly all nations, dogs have been used in police work; their trainers are in great demand for the wartime emergency need. To mention an outstanding force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police long have been expert at schooling dogs to search for evidence in criminal cases, apprehend the more desperate type of criminal, and locate missing persons in thickly wooded areas.

The British Army, especially, has been making great progress in the training of dogs for war work. The personnel conducting its Dog Training Center have been selected from men who were recognized as successful dog trainers in civilian life. The following notes deal only with dog training methods used by the British Army.


The breeds of dogs most useful for war work are the Alsatian, the Dobermann Pinscher, the Big Airedale, and the Rottweiler. The age at which their training generally starts is from 1 to 2 years; after this, a dog is likely to have acquired set habits, and consequently is harder to school. Inasmuch as civilians have been generous about lending pets for the duration, the British Army has had no trouble in obtaining an adequate supply of dogs. Incidentally, mongrels have proved so satisfactory for war work that no effort is made to secure pedigreed stock. The British have found that mongrels with a strong Alsatian strain make especially good candidates, because of their quietness, dependability, ruggedness, and speed at detecting a body scent.


A dog is trained to perform only one of three specific types of work. It may be trained as a messenger dog, to carry messages from outposts to company or headquarters and return; as a patrol dog, to advance ahead of night patrols and to indicate by pointing the approximate location of any human beings in the line of advance; or as a sentry dog, to be stationed at such vulnerable points as forward machine-gun posts to indicate any hostile advance against the position.


a. General

Dogs are tested first for gun-shyness. About one-third of the dogs are rejected for failure to pass this test. Next, the dogs are assigned to their trainers, and are given about two weeks in which to become accustomed to them. The dogs are taught to recognize certain simple, easily distinguished commands. All trainers use uniform commands. Throughout the training period, the dogs are conditioned to ignore human beings seeking to pet them, and all wild and domestic animals, including other dogs.

b. Messenger Dogs

Each prospective messenger dog is assigned to two trainers. It is taught to shuttle back and forth between the trainers, and over gradually increased distances. As soon as the dog can perform this work satisfactorily, its trainers take it to the headquarters of a unit. One of the trainers remains at a fixed position at the headquarters, while the other takes the dog to an outpost with which communication is desired. When the dog is released from the outpost, it makes its way back to the unit headquarters and its other master. Afterward, the dog can be released from the headquarters to return to the outpost when necessary. A good dog will find the right man if he is anywhere within a quarter of a mile from the position where the dog last saw him.

Messages are carried in a hollow, lightweight leather collar. This collar is put on the dog only just before the animal is released, and is removed as soon as it arrives at the other post. This is the psychological basis of the training. Each dog is taught to understand that whenever the collar is attached, a trip to the other master is required.

Experienced trainers need an average of 6 weeks if they are going to teach a dog to work with them in this manner. Some dogs have been trained to operate over distances up to 8 miles. Three-fourths of a mile to 1 mile, however, is the maximum distance over which they are expected to operate under service conditions.

Once a dog has been trained, only two weeks are needed to accustom him to work with new masters. The battalion, or other unit to which the dog will be attached, furnishes the new men, who come to the Dog Training Center to work with the animal for the two-week period before taking it back to the unit.

Little effort is made to develop a dog's speed at delivering messages. Instead, emphasis is placed on developing its dependability, and on teaching it how to get past a variety of difficult obstacles. The theory is that if a dog gets through at all, its speed is bound to be greater than that of any human messenger. It is also recognized that a dog has a tremendous advantage over a human messenger in crossing bad ground, negotiating obstacles, and presenting a small and difficult target to enemy fire.

c. Patrol Dogs

Patrol dogs are trained to pick up body scent, to point out the direction from which it comes, and to work in complete silence at all times. They are used only at night.

During operations the master and his dog work several paces in advance of the patrol. If the wind is coming from a direction from which opposition is expected, there is a much better chance of success. Detecting a body scent ahead, the dog points, indicating the direction. The dog's master signals the patrol leader, who can either take steps to deal with the opposition or attempt to evade it.

A U.S. Signal Corps officer reports that during a demonstration he witnessed, two of these dogs picked out men hidden in woods and ditches at distances of 100 to 150 yards, and accurately pointed the direction. The experienced trainers were able to estimate the approximate distance simply by noting the degree of excitement shown by the dogs and the eagerness with which they tugged at their leads. Another officer, after working with a night patrol which had used a patrol dog, reported that the animal was invaluable in helping the patrol to avoid opposition while carrying out reconnaissance.

d. Sentry Dogs

Sentry dogs are assigned to fixed defensive position where they pick up the sound or body scent of anyone approaching and give instant warning. They have proved especially valuable in the defense of machine-gun posts. As soon as a human being comes within about 80 yards of a gun position, the dog gives warning. Sentry dogs also are used extensively in the guarding of airdromes.

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