In a previous post on Cat WMDs, I wrote about centuries-old designs to strap stink-emitting cannons onto cats as weapons of war. In my ongoing research on pet-keeping culture, I have found similar plans for wartime uses of dogs as soldiers. An 1856 article in Boy’s and Girl’s Illustrated Olio, a New York publication, discusses plans found from “hundreds of years ago.”
One was, a lone tower sentinel used a dog to pull a bell that would signal the presence of a guard on duty, so that the sentinel could leave his post.
According to this story, as told to young children, the sentinel’s partner had died, and he faced starvation before coming up with this idea: “If he could make his dog ring that bell while he was gone, the enemy would not suspect his absence. So he tied one end of the rope to the bell and the other to the collar of the dog, and then put down his last piece of bread, just out of the animal’s reach, so that the poor thing would keep trying to get it without being able. This, of course, would pull the rope and ring the bell. So the poor sentinel got a chance to run and let his fellow-soldiers know of his destitute condition.”
The other was the outfitting of a “fierce mastiff” to “frighten the horses”; he was equipped to wear leather armor, a vase filled with “something that will burn fiercely,” and a bayonet, in addition to his own natural weapons.
“In this way a few of these dogs, well trained, will put to flight a large number of high-spirited horses, and perhaps secure the victory.”
It is not clear if these plans were actually put into effect: the former sounds like a legend, and the latter seems highly impractical. We have, of course, come up with many practical uses of soldier dogs, as Maria Goodavage writes about in her book.
Source: “Dog Soldiers.” Boy’s and Girl’s Illustrated Olio. New York: S.S. Union, 1856. Google Book Search.