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A solider and dog work to find the wounded in poisonous war areas.

A French sergeant and his dog wear gas masks on their way to the front lines in World War I. With their sensitive noses, dogs were able to recognize gas attacks and bark a warning to troops in the trenches before humans could smell the chemicals.

PHOTOGRAPH BY UNDERWOOD AND UNDERWOOD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Michael Paterniti

National Geographic

Published February 6, 2014

The dog is surrounded by Taliban fighters. Its eyes dart back and forth. Its tail wags tentatively. It is a military dog that apparently belonged to Western forces in Afghanistan and is being held hostage. A video of the dog, surrounded by gun-toting Taliban, has surfaced this week.

It appears that the dog was deployed by British forces. The dog's name and gender are not certain but its breed is believed to be Belgian Malinois, known for being fearless, driven, and able to handle the heat, making it especially well suited for places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The Malinois is often used by U.S. Special Operations troops, typically trained to detect explosives or narcotics.

The military does not typically report on dogs that may have been taken hostage. But there was an instance that made headlines during World War II. A British ship's dog, named Judy, was captured by the Japanese and registered as a prisoner of war. Despite being sentenced to death, the pure-bred pointer survived and returned to England, where she was awarded a medal "for magnificent courage and endurance." Her barks were broadcast on the BBC.

War dog promo.

Dogs have played a key role in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military has had a force as large as 2,500 dogs. Some breeds are better suited than others for combat. Some wither in the heat or struggle with gunfire or explosions, even after they've been desensitized to them in training. Some are too loyal, too lazy, or too playful.

In the U.S., it was Benjamin Franklin who reportedly first encouraged the use of dogs in conflict, in this case against the Indians. "[They] will confound the enemy," he wrote, "and be very serviceable. This was the Spanish method of guarding their marches." (Spanish conquistadors were said to have used bullmastiffs against the Native Americans.)

German troops take cover with a dog during World War I. In 1884 the German army built the first official war dog school at Lechernich. When World War I began, they boasted 6,000 combat dogs, many of them German Shepherds.
PHOTOGRAPH BY HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS
German troops take cover with a dog during World War I.

During the Second Seminole War of 1835, the U.S. military employed 33 Cuban-bred bloodhounds to track Indians in the swamps of Florida. Dogs were used as messengers in the Civil War and scouts during the 1898 Spanish American War.

During World War I, thousands of dogs were used as messengers. In World War II, U.S. Marines deployed dogs on Pacific islands to sniff out hidden Japanese positions, and as many as 5,000 canines were used to lead jungle patrols in Vietnam, saving an estimated 10,000 lives.

Canine Heroes

Today, military working dogs (or MWDs) have entered our national narrative as heroes in their own right. The most visible are known by their mononyms—Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, who was hailed for his work with the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. Or Rex, a German shepherd, whose handler, Mike Dowling, wrote a book about their harrowing exploits in Iraq, saying, "It was Rex who gave me the strength to get up and to carry on."

This bond, of course, is the mythic essence of our fascination with these teams: The human reliance on superior animal senses (dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors to our five million); the seriousness of the endeavor in contrast to the dog's naive joy in being on the hunt; the selflessness and loyalty of trainer and dog in putting themselves in harm's way—one wittingly and one unwittingly—in order to save lives.

U.S. marines running towards a Bell Huey helicopter and crew in the Tay Ninh area of Vietnam.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TERRY FINCHER, GETTY IMAGES
U.S. Marines and a combat dog evacuate in Vietnam.

The image of dog and soldier living together like Lassie and Timmy, however, is not entirely accurate. If anything, dog handlers do their best to abide by the military's edict that a working dog is just another piece of equipment.

"Dogs are like toddlers," says Gunnery Sergeant Kristopher Knight, previously one of the military's top dog trainers. "They need to be told what to do. They need to know that their primary drives—oxygen, food and water—are taken care of. Two betas will never get it right. One must be the alpha, and it must be the handler."

Updated 2/21/14.

20 comments
Shane C.
Shane C.

As of last fall in Canada, it is now a criminal offence to kill a police dog. We have 3 dogs and they make great pets and companions. Any service dog should have a higher status than other dogs especially as they are helping to keep the public or society safe. Hopefully the Taliban will treat the animal humanely and possibly adopt it as a pet. I cannot see them returning it except in some trade off arrangement.

Hesara Pathirana
Hesara Pathirana

humans do wars for nothing... finally innocent animals have to pay for that....  this is the fault of the people who took him there.... 

Don Stump
Don Stump

God is forever faithfull..Hallelujah yes and amen to our Heavenly Father God Almighty..Amen.

Zaida Jorat
Zaida Jorat

I hope the don't live this poor dog to be kill by this terrorist.

Dianne Lee
Dianne Lee

This needs to be read and found to be true or not, and something done about it!

Cristina Collesano
Cristina Collesano

"If anything, dog handlers do their best to abide by the military's edict that a working dog is just another piece of equipment."


Excuse me, what?  As a US Navy military working dog handler, I can tell you that this is entirely false.  We create a bond with these dogs like we do with another human, usually even more so.  We are with these dogs more than our families, sometimes 24/7 for months on end during a deployment.  They save lives repeatedly, our own included.  When an MWD dies, whether they are killed in action or die in another way, they are honored as a fallen brother in arms, not thrown away like "just another piece of equipment". You might want to remove that sentence from this article.

Gabriele Menefee
Gabriele Menefee

I wonder if this is truly one of the allied military dogs because they are trained NOT to obey, follow or let others touch or feed it.  They may be using this innocent dog as a way to get us to respond in some manner.  Hopefully it is not one of our dogs.  But, nevertheless, it is a cowards tactic to use this against our hearts.  I pray for the little dog and hope it isn't harmed.

Gonzalo Huidobro
Gonzalo Huidobro

I´m not entirely sure, but I once heard in that until the 60´s  in the spanish army´s mountain troops  a mule had the rank of a lesser sergeant, lower ranks being dispensed of saluting as the mules would not return the salute...



C. Dufour
C. Dufour

Call of duty "ghost" is turning to be more accurate than we thought.

William H.
William H.

I was Handler, Trainer, and unit Supervisor of PD Working Dogs.


I have not heard of a Military capture before reading this. A dog away from his Handler would only go one of two ways, to aggressive for anyone to handle or docile and controllable. This is possibly a British W.D. I would expect they would have to try and repatriate their own property. I also believe that it would not be worthwhile to expend the resources on a rescue mission. 


As an American, you can help determine the quality of care we give our Military, Police, and other government use canines by being an advocate of better treatment and eventual "property disposition" for these faithful canines. Like our human Veterans these dogs rate that status also. They have served Man in a capacity that should garner them a place of retirement and safety from execution for the remainder of their years when their effectiveness has diminished, no matter Military, Police, and other government agencies.

Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis

I haven't stopped thinking about this dog since I first heard about this situation. Someone needs to save him. They are probably doing horrible things to him. Who can we contact about this? Nothing gets done in this country unless people speak up. I can't get this poor guy out of my head.

Kathy Pratt
Kathy Pratt

I love my pups and can't believe that they would like to work around guns and bombing but my hats off to the dogs and their trainers. My large girl worked search and rescue and I know how had it was to get her used to that environment.

Max Ellis
Max Ellis

We need to save the dog. This animal has devoted its life to serve its country. The animal is being held captive & is a hostage of the dreaded Taliban. The animal is being held against its will as it is clearly not in good spirits. We would of done it for private Ryan. I do not see why we can not do it for this Belgian Malinois.   

Andi Harris
Andi Harris

What is being done to save the dog from it's captivity? My prayers go out to him. I would like some more information on that, please!

Marianne Harding
Marianne Harding

Soldiers treating dogs like equipment? That is NOT the impression I got from reading SOLDIER DOGS by Maria Goodavage. But sadly, attempts to change their military status from equipment have not yet succeeded.

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