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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Silent Heroes is adult fiction about the war in Afghanistan.