Amazing Roles Dogs Played During WW1, part 1: Dogs in Trenches and Ratter Dogs via @PatFurstenberg #dogs #war #trenches #ratters #history

Amazing roles of dogs played during WW1. Part 1: dogs in trenches and ratter dogs

Although still informal, dogs helped a great deal during the Great War.

“War is hell”, said Union Army General Sherman referring to the Civil War, but he could have just as well referred to the Great War, a war of trenches, these narrow vertical graves that, ironically, are traced back to the Civil War.

A war pup and his soldier friend
A war pup and his soldier friend

Stuck in them for weeks at a time, dealing with cold, wet feet, disease, “mustard gas” (a poisonous gas), dead bodies; trapped between bayonets and deadly bullets from “no man’s land”, soldiers had little to hope for.

Soon enough, the military dogs that accompanied some regiments proved that were able not only to lift the soldier’s moral, but to save lives at the same time.

Dogs in trenches during the Great War

During one night in the French front trenches all the dogs present became suddenly uneasy. They were growling and were extremely agitated.

The soldiers knew their army dogs and their body language so they telephoned the main entrenchment for reinforcement. Less than half an hour after support arrived, the Germans attacked.

How did the dogs knew? Have they heard the Germans preparing for an attack in their trenches?

Dogs can hear a wider frequency noises than humans.

When humans hear noises in the sound wave range of 64–23,000 Hz (bass to high pitched), dogs can hear in the range 67–45,000 Hz (a much wider frequency).

Added to this there is the loudness of the sound, measured in decibels and dogs can hear sounds so quiet (at 5-15 dB) that human can’t perceive them (a whisper measures at 20 dB).

Captain with dog in trenches 1914
Captain with dog in trenches 1914

What about the dog’s ability to smell?

Have they discerned a sudden increase in gun powder scent rising from the German trenches or a sudden increase in body odor due to a combination of excitement/fear ahead of an attack and added number of soldiers?

A dog’s nose is so sensitive that even scientists struggle to quantify it. It is estimated that a dog can smell between 1 000 to 100 000 times better than a human plus dogs can smell each component in an odor. In proportion to its size, a dog’s brain has an area dedicate to smell analysis that is four times bigger than that of the human’s brain.

Ratter dogs during WW1

We need to keep in mind that WW1 was a war fought in the trenches. Soldiers lived there for many weeks at a time, facilities were nearby, food was available, wounded or dead corpses were sometimes at close quarters.

A Scottish Regiment and their Ratter Dog in the trenches of WW1
A Scottish Regiment and their Ratter Dog in the trenches of WW1

Rats were a daily reality of WW1. Small dogs were therefor kept in the trenches as “ratters”. Soldiers living in trenches encountered millions of pests during war including rats They fed on rotting food because there was no proper way of getting rid of rubbish in trenches A terrier dog shows off its catch after a 15 minute rat hunt.

Soldiers living in trenches encountered millions of pests during war including rats They fed on rotting food bc there was no proper way of getting rid of rubbish in trenches A terrier dog shows off its catch after a 15 minute rat hunt -source BBC
Soldiers living in trenches encountered millions of pests during war including rats They fed on rotting food because there was no proper way of getting rid of rubbish in trenches A terrier dog shows off its catch after a 15 minute rat hunt -source BBC

We saw why dogs were so indispensable during the war, as well as some of the tasks they had performed during WW1.

Come back to find out more about World War 1 dog scouts, sentries, Red Cross, messenger, mascots as well as the World War 2 dogs.

Two of my books are about dogs at war.

Joyful Trouble is a book for all ages.

Joyful Trouble, Based on the True Story of a Dog Enlisted in the Royal Navy
Joyful Trouble, Based on the True Story of a Dog Enlisted in the Royal Navy – World War 2

Silent Heroes is adult fiction about the war in Afghanistan.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting
Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting
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Why dogs Were so indispensable during warfare AND how dog training began via @PatFurstenberg #dogs #wardogs #war

Why were dogs so indispensable during warfare AND how dog training began

It was 1895 when Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson, a Scot military man, noticed a German man buying a sheepdog from a shepherd.On engaging the two, Richardson learns that the German army was buying British collies to train and use in their own military service.

On engaging the two, Richardson learns that the German army was buying British collies to train and use in their own military service.

German Imperial Army
German Imperial Army

In the eve of WW1 Richardson and his wife Blanche Bannon, both dog lovers, were already training dogs. Soon the military asked them to begin a British War Dogs training school in Shoeburyness, Essex. The Richardsons trained hundreds of hounds for military service during both world wars.

Richardson particularly liked the Airedale Terrier.

Edwin Richardson trained Airedale terriers for the police in Glasgow before supplying canine recruits for World War One.
Edwin Richardson trained Airedale terriers for the police in Glasgow before supplying canine recruits for World War One.

“They’re very determined. They’re very single-minded and there’s no stopping them.”

Lt Col Edwin Hautenville Richardson

Right about this time, but a woman, her dog and her Harley-Davidson Motorcycle took the journey of a lifetime.

While in Europe Airedale Terriers were even taught to use gas masks as part of their military service.

Airedale Terriers were taught to use gas masks as part of their military service -Getty source
Airedale Terriers were taught to use gas masks as part of their military service -Getty source

The dogs were also trained to carry first aid and supplies for soldiers at the front.

“The dead and badly wounded are easily found; they lay where they fought; but the lightly wounded, those that had still strength to crawl and hunt shelter or water to quell their thirst, are the ones that te hospital corps is apt to miss. Speaking from the viewpoint of military efficiency these slightly wounded are the very soldiers that should be specially cared for, for on their speedy recovery they may prove in a long-drawn-out war the deciding factor that will end it, when they have again returned to the fighting line. Good Red Cross Dogs will quickly clear a battle-ground of all wounded soldiers.”

(Scout, Red Cross Army Dogs)
The dogs were also trained to carry first aid and supplies for soldiers at the front - Getty source
The dogs were also trained to carry first aid and supplies for soldiers at the front – Getty source

Richardson even paid unemployed locals to pretend being injured or dead people, lying around the dunes, and helping the dogs to train.

“We also served” is the special bandana of The Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland today.

"We also served" -The Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland today.
“We also served” -The Airedale Terrier Club of Scotland today.

Richardson’s contribution to the development of the military and Red Cross dog units was in-commensurable through his assiduous research, work and dedication towards canines. The first Army Dog School in England, at the start of The Great War, would not have been possible without his work.

Before his aid was required at the beginning of the Great War, the fame of Richardson’s highly trained dogs had reached far away, as proved by his services being required by Sultan Abdul Hamid, Empress Eugenie, of Bulgaria, the Abor expedition in India, the Gordon Highlanders, the Norfolk Regiment, and the King’s Durham Light Infantry, and Queen Mary on the eve of WW1.

Why were dogs so indispensable during warfare?

There is nothing like a dog’s loyalty and determination. Once a dog is taught a s skill, he will be happy to apply it to please his human master and friend.

It is our responsibility to be mindful of what we teach our dogs for they will do anything we ask them in order to make us happy.

A helpful dog
Helpful dog

Once a dog knows his destination he will get there at all costs. Pigeons cannot be sent in a fog or in the dark. Dogs will go in all weathers and at all times. During heavy bombardment by the enemy the casualties among the runners (soldiers sent to deliver messages) are heavy, especially when they have to cross n pen field where they are exposed to snipers, machine gun fire, or a heavy barrage. A runner would take two or three hours to do a journey from the trenches, while a dog only half an hour or less.

Richardson on training the his war dogs:

“The drill yesterday began with an obstacle race by a squad well advanced in training. Across the road were placed a barbed wire fence and a few yards further on a hurdle, and beyond that a barrier made of branches of trees. The dogs were taken about a mile up the road and then released. There was a great race for home. The bigger dogs leapt clear of all the obstructions; the smaller ones wriggled their way through; but two wily sheep dogs, strictly in accordance with the rules of the game preferred to leap a ditch and make a detour, arriving home as quickly as the others.

Novices who go astray in these and other test are never punished. They are caught by the keepers and gently led back for another try.”

Airedale Terriers of War
Airedale Terriers of War

Sadly, most of the Dog Messenger Service heroes are anonymous as officially they were known only by the numbers on the collars.

Dogs, the Silent Heroes of World War One

After some trial and error, medium sized dogs with grey or black fur were preferred, with good eyesight and “character”. Breeds varies, from a cross between a bulldog and a mastiff to German shepherds, retrievers, pointers and large Airedale terriers.

But above all, “character and training” was wanted.

We saw how dogs became man’s best friend.

How well dogs helped during the Great War and the Second World War we will see soon, as well as finding amazing stories about dog war mascots and other mongrels.

Do return to find out.

My latest book is‘Silent Heroes’, a highly emotional read, action-packed, a vivid story of enormous sacrifice and bravery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

It is a book extremely well researched, with authentic details and an epic sense of the place. The war and the military involved, Marines and dogs, are described with reverence, as are the civilians caught in the middle of the fire.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
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