Support: China Embraces The Dogs Of War

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December 27, 2011: Over the last decade, China has increased its force of military working dogs considerably and now has about 10,000 large dogs being used for security, rescue, and detection (of explosives or drugs). Most Chinese military dogs appear to be locally bred and trained for security duties. In the capital, there is a military dog training center that produces several hundred dogs a year with precise detection skills. Training dogs for this is a more involved and time-consuming process. Many of these dogs are also used by paramilitary police units and disaster relief organizations that specialize in rescue (via dogs smelling live, or dead, victims in the rubble).

Most of the dogs are Western breeds (shepherds, retrievers, and a small number of other large animals). Most large Chinese working dogs died out in the last century or so, although there is a shepherd like breed, the Kunming dog (that is part German Shepherd) that was created in the 1950s when the military dog training center was founded. This center was shut down in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, and was not reopened until the early 1990s. Before that, some military units had been breeding and training large dogs for security and other military tasks.

In the last decade, the Chinese noted the successful use of dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan and have expanded the number of trained military dogs in service. There is a long history of working dogs in China but mainly smaller breeds used for security or hunting small game. There used to be large war dogs, as were popular in medieval and ancient times in the West, but these breeds died out in China.

The Chinese have also noted the Western use of special equipment for military and police dogs. This includes doggles (goggles designed to fit a dog). Doggles provide protection from bright sunlight and dust and fine sand often found blowing into northern China from the Gobi Desert.

Much of the new dog gear is decidedly high tech. For example, there is a special camera system that is incorporated into a vest often worn by combat dogs. Some of the new gear is just updates of existing stuff. For example, war dogs have long been equipped with non-armored vests. These vests are inexpensive (under $100) and just provided protection from the elements and a way to identify the dog. More recent vest designs come with many special features besides cameras. Some vests have compartments on the inside for the insertion of cold packs (soft, flat plastic bags containing a chemical that, when activated, becomes very cool). Since dogs do not deal with heat as effectively as humans (dogs don’t sweat), the cold packs can prevent heat stroke. There are also attachments on the vest to enable the dog to be dropped by parachute, or hauled up via a rope. Vests now allow identifying badges to be easily added and more of them have various grips for the handlers to pick up an injured dog. One vest design even has straps so that a handler can carry the dog on his back like a pack. While vests hinder dogs' mobility a bit, especially when they are jumping, the dogs have quickly adjusted.

Normally used for sniffing out explosives, crowd control, and other police type work, the dogs are also trained to work while wearing custom made Kevlar body armor. The armored vests, depending on the degree of protection, cost from $500-$1,000. Some handlers prefer unarmored vests, because they are lighter (at 500 grams or about a pound) and less constrictive. But Kevlar vests will protect the dogs from stab wounds, shell fragments, and some bullets. While the heaviest Protective Vests weigh about 3.5 kg, for a 41 kg (90 pound) German Shepherd, this is about the same burden as the 7.7 kg (17 pound) vest worn by troops. The expense of the vests is justified because of the value of the dogs. The dogs take over a year, and some $60,000 (in the West), to train. So spending some money on life saving equipment for the dogs is a good investment.

The U.S. has been using military dogs for over a century. There are currently over a thousand of these dogs in U.S. military service. During World War II, some 10,000 dogs were taken into military service, and in the Vietnam War, some 4,000 dogs were trained and sent overseas, where 281 were killed in combat. The marines used 327 dogs in the Pacific during World War II and 29 died in battle. The marines found the dogs particularly useful for detecting Japanese troops, who were expert at camouflage and setting up ambushes.

Until 2000, when the law was changed, military dogs were used until they were about ten years old and then killed. It was thought that the retired military dogs could not adapt to family life. But decades of police and some military experience with dogs living safely with their handlers and family members, finally caused the policy to be changed. Dog handlers had long urged that retired dogs be allowed to stay with their handlers or be put up for adoption. In China, dog meat is considered a delicacy even though dogs are becoming increasingly popular as pets.

 


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