Search and Rescue Dogs

Meet Boots and Douglas, the Tasmanian Lighthorse Troop’s search and rescue dogs.

There is a long history through past centuries of war dogs being utilised by many nations and armies such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Slavs, Britons, Romans, Spanish conquistadors, etc. Right through to modern times dogs have had their part in war.

During the First World War dogs were used extensively as sentry dogs, scout dogs, messenger dogs, tracker dogs, casualty dogs, explosive dogs, ratters and mascot dogs. A dog’s role depending largely on their size, intelligence and training. It is estimated that by 1918, Germany had employed 30,000 dogs, And the allies well over 20,000. America though, did not at first use dogs, only occasionally borrowing them from the Allies. Later though, after a chance stowaway, the USA produced the most decorated and highly-ranked service dog in military history, Sergeant Stubby.

Lots of dog breeds were used during World War One, but the most popular type of dogs were medium-sized, intelligent and trainable breeds with superior strength, agility, territorial nature and trainability. For example, German Shepherds were used because of their strength, intelligence and trainability, being eager to please their masters, they proved to be an excellent choice for sentry duties and also for laying lines of communication from the reels strapped to their backs. Airedales were considered by many to be the best tracker dogs. Some other frequently used breeds were Doberman Pinschers, and smaller breeds such as terriers.

The casualty dogs (sometimes called “search and rescue”, “mercy” or “medic” dogs) of WWI are credited with saving thousands of lives over the course of the war. They were trained to search battlefields and trenches to pick out wounded men. Some dogs were trained to make their search at night, under the cover of dark, unattended, navigating the terrain quickly and soundlessly. Barking an alert could potentially draw enemy fire, so many dogs were trained to pull off a piece of cloth or a loose helmet from a wounded man and carry it back to their handlers so a rescue attempt could be made. The handler would then attach a leash and follow the dog back to the wounded man.

Some dogs were equipped with medical supplies to aid those soldiers who could help themselves to supplies, giving them a chance to tend to their own wounds.

Our dogs are both German Shepherds, the black dog is Boots, the black and tan dog is Douglas, they are both in training to be search and rescue dogs within our reenacting troop.