The dogs were used as messengers, sentries and guard-dogs mainly. From notes: The dogs of war were trained initially as ambulance dogs for the Belgian Army by Lt Col E.H.Richardson ,who had been training police dogs since 1898, and were used in September 1914 with the Belgian Army.
In 1914 he escaped Belgium via Ostende from the initial advance of the German Army. Conditions on the Western Front then became impossible for ambulance dogs. The French War Office forbade their use in any form with their arrmy after the first few weeks. He then received requests from some officers for sentry and patrol work and he supplied some Airedales as they proved best. He also sent some to the Belgian Army.
Several official requests were also made to the War Office for dogs for several purposes. The initial official trial was done in late 1916 when Col Winter RA of 56th Brigade RA attached to 11th Division used 2 of them for communication from FOA at Wytschaete Ridge where the dogs carried messages 4000 yards to the Brigade HQ over unknown ground and these were the first messages received all other systems having failed.
Richardson then set up the War Dog Training School at Shoeburyness and eventually an officer, Major Waley MC R.E. was appointed in France to superintend their use in the field and a central kennel was formed at Etaples by Signals Section R.E. . The dogs (usually 3) and a handler were sent from there to sectional kennels, usually in charge of a sergeant with sixteen men and 48 dogs, behind the front line where battalion handlers collected them and took them up the line. The central handler remained at Battalion HQ to oversee the use of the dogs.
The school expanded as the war progressed and supplied dogs to most fronts most notably Salonika where they were used for sentry work in forward positions and listening posts. Eventually as the call-up increased towards the end of the war the dogs were used at home as guard dogs for munition factories etc to release men for the front who had been guarding them. The French changed thier minds after seeing the dogs in action and several were supplied to them, especially General Gourand who was the most supportive. Paul Mangin was a Sergeant in the French Army whose most famous dog was Satan of Verdun.
Dogs were then used for three main duties, messengers, sentry and guard use. The supply of dogs was increased by Battersea Dog Home and the others around the country supplying strays. Some members of the public also gave their dogs for the army. Men in the trenches were forbidden to impede or interfere with dogs on a run as a court martial offence and the dogs had tin cylinders and coloured tallies on thier collar to distinguish the unit they were with. Use of the dogs saved many lives as they had better survival chances than runners. The school at Shoeburyness was proving too small so it moved in 1917 to Mateley Ridge above Lyndehurst where it remained until May 1919 when it moved finally to Bulford on Salisbury Plain. A figure of 7500 dogs killed in action is given. A lot of pigeons, horses and dogs died in the War.”
Taken from GREATWAR Mailing List at Rootsweb
Author: Malcolm G Fergusson
Addendum from Malcolm: “The article is a compilation of the information from three books I have (out of print) Some IWM photos show dogs in various Fronts in official and unofficial guises. The MGC, East Lancs, Sherwood Forresters and the Tank Corps all had stray dog mascots, and there is a story of a Scottish kilted Regiment attacking at Hill60 in April 1915 led by a large black dog, sorry, don’t know which battalion. The Royal Navy also collected stray dogs as mascots on ships. ”
Unofficially, small terriers often became soldiers’ pets and these dogs were very useful in the trenches as they were good rat-killers.”