A Special Presentation From Hahn's 50th AP K-9, West Germany




The Imperial German staff began to develop war dog breeds, and training during the latter years of the 19th Century.  

Principles and practices established then, and early on in the next century proved so sound that they became the standard practice for the rest of the world.

Beginning in the late 1860s, Village Clubs were established throughout Germany for the breeding and training of dogs for war, all subsidized by the Imperial Prussian Army.

Then in 1884, the General Staff established the world's very first Military War Dog School, at Lechernich, near Berlin, and started to train dogs as sentries and as messengers; the dog units were first mentioned officially in 1884, and again in 1886, in their Army's Field Service Regulations, for work with their armed services.

Sanit”tshunde Team

They were also the first to introduce the Red Cross dog; their school's head trainer, Herr von Bungartz trained units of dogs, who wore saddlebags containing medical supplies, to search and find the wounded on a field of battle.

The Germans also refered to these dogs as sanitary dogs (ie: Sanit”tshunde); the dogs were trained to either carry the short brindel (or brinsel) leash in their mouth if wounded were found or to let it hang loose otherwise.

A year later, in 1885 the school wrote and published the very first training manuals for war dogs, which were later translated by a American army officer, and published in the United States Service Journal in 1904.

The manual clearly indicated, that the Imperial German Army had fully accepted war dogs as a valuable auxiliary. The tables of organization for Jaeger Battalions showed at least two war dogs assigned to a company, with a maximum of twelve to a full ballalion.

Dogs were to be obtained through purchases, and by carefully selective breeding; only purebreds were to be accepted for service and the most careful precautions were required against accidental crossbreeding.

The breeds that were first used, were gun dogs, the Poodles, Airedales (because of the remarkable qualities they had shown in police work in England), Farm Collies, and the new German Shepherds plus the new dog from Herr Doberman!

The German Shepherd breed was especially recommended, "because of its ability to understand commands was similar to the Poodle, and its endurance, watchfulness and readiness for the commands were suitable for the military service."

This is how the German Governing Body of Chasseur and Rifleman Inspection of Military Dogs Training, Raising and Usage said about the shepherd dogs in 1886, when they recommended them and gun dogs and Poodles for military service.

As usual the General Staff had thought of every thing and left no duty unspecified. Puppies' tails were to be shortened within the first four weeks, under the supervision of the Attending Officer. The training of the dogs began in their seventh month, with exercises on leash. All depositions to bark was sternly checked, and no war dog was allowed to develop a taste for hunting game.

The manuals emphasize, that only men who have a genuine love for dogs must be accepted for training: "on this essentially the animal's performance depends ...the efficiency of a dog heavily depends on the choice of its attendants and the special instructions. Faulty treatment will lessen the efficiency of the animal; special attention also must be given to its kenneling, and if necessary its cleaning and drying."

With extreme thoroughness, the Germans evidently took pains to ensure that their canine auxilaries were well looked after. A special section of the manual even deft with the regulations for veterinary supervision of the dogs.

Prussian Handler, 1885

Dog trainees were taken to target ranges to accustom them to gunfire. The dogs were allowed no association except with their trainers and assistants. Repeatedly, it was emphasized that the dogs in training seldom should be punished - that stubbornness was a rare trait, never found in purebred dogs. However, the manual added: "The teacher must never yield to the will of the dog, even in the least manner." A pat and a job "well done, my dog," was set down as the method of reward. Prizes (to cost not more than sixteen marks) were to be given trainers, whose dogs made the best grades.

German Handler, 1890

In 1887, a well-known german writer, General von Goltz who was reviewing the "field work" of the war dogs of the 3d Rifle Regiment in Lyubek; recommended that they stopped using the Poodle and the gun dog breeds, and use only the new German Shepherd as the main breed for messengers, ammo carriers and medical dogs.

His advice wasn't taken, and Germany continued to use the fore mentioned breeds, as well as a number of others.

During the Herrero Campaign (1904 - 1907) in German West Africa, sixty war dogs were assigned to their armies; time and again, the dogs saved the troops from ambushes in the dense low shrubs.

As a result of the dogs success in Africa, war dog training was taken much more seriously, and all the village dog clubs were amalgamated into a huge association called, "Der Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde," under the leadership of the Crown Prince, and the Imperial General Staff.

During the Grand Manouvers of the Army, in 1905, the General Staff proudly demonstrated the usefulness of their war dogs, to the world. The dog units accompanied their troops in practice marches and other 'war game exercises,' demonstrating their effectiveness!

When hostilities were declared in August 1914, the German Army had 6,000 trained war dogs ready for action, who went straight to the fronts with their regiments, with a reserve pool of trained police dogs ...while owners whose dogs were approved at trials and listed in the association's records were ordered to mobilize at once.

During the first advances into both Belgium and France, the Germans lost no time in seizing all suitable dogs and sending them back to Germany to be trained. Once trained, the dogs were drafted to army kennels; each army had one from which dogs were issued to the front line troops.

The rest as they say, is history!

Prussian Officer, 2nd Lt. Burckhardt,
With His Companion, 'Box,' 1870.

The Prussian Franco War, 1871
The Battle of Belfort
January 17, 1871
By Lt. Burckhardt, of Hanover.

"In the campaign of 1870/71, a Boxer of my parents' breeding, named Box,  was my companion. He was at my side through the skirmishes and battles near Metz, lived in our tent, and during the encounters acted as a true watchdog against any danger. The battles never bothered him at all. He was very popular because of his affectionate and intelligent nature, and every letter I sent back to my parents contained a report on the dog. But he was not destined to ever see his home again. Our dangerous days near Metz were not the end of our combat. My regiment was ordered to help in the siege of Belfortómonths of misery that my faithful companion had to suffer too.

Already in the first weeks of the siege, while on a patrol of the line, my Box was badly hit in the hindquarters by shrapnel from an artillery shell. I had to place him in the care of some medics.
When I returned after several days he was beside himself with joy. Despite great pain, he leaped up to greet me, almost as though he knew I had been spared death again. Nor would he let anybody else near me without my approval. Anyone coming near was greeted by a low, but serious growl, until I gave a signal that the other person was a friend.

But I was only able to enjoy his companionship and love for a little while longer. Information that General Bourbaki would be trying to lift the siege soon became reality. Three horrible days of battle took place on January 15, 16 and 17. We had to put every last man on the line against an enemy that outnumbered us by tenfold. There was no one to care for my poor little patient.

Although only on three legs, my Box went with me to the front of the battle lines, which became the place of death for many brave German soldiers and my faithful dog.

The third day of battle was even worse than the first two. The enemy fought for his very existence. A hail of artillery and rifle fire poured down upon us, but Box stood firm as stone by my side and stared at the enemy line that was now mounting a direct charge at us.

Suddenly there was a dull thud and out of the corner of my eye I saw my dear dog blown into the air and coming down in the snow. He had been ripped apart by shrapnel from a grenade. The grenade would probably have hit me if Box had not been there, for I would most likely have been standing in that very spot.

Spared from death, I had the feeling that my dearest friend had died in place of me.

We repelled the enemy's attack, then immediately mounted a counter attack against the fleeing enemyóall in the most bitter cold and through ice and snow. I never saw my most faithful comrade-in-arms again."

NEXT: THE GREAT WAR, 1914 - 1918

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