Infantry: Sobaka Stalina

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July 20, 2012:  Russian civilian and government security organizations are increasing the use of a uniquely Russian breed of dog, the Black Russian Terrier. This large (50 kg/110 pounds) dog is only part terrier. The curly black hair gives it a distinctive look. During the 1950s, the Soviet government ordered the military to breed a superior type of military/police dog. Breeders combined genes from about twenty different breeds. But the main ones found in the final product were Airedale, Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Caucasian Ovtcharka, and the Moscow Water Dog. The Black Russian Terrier proved to be a success, but it wasn't until the late 1950s that any were released to civilian breeders. Russian dictator Josef Stalin gave the order to begin the breeding program, so the result was often called Stalin's Dog (Sobaka Stalina) rather than Black Russian Terrier.

Since these large animals are working dogs, they require lots of exercise and firm direction (or else they will attempt to dominate their human owners). While excellent as watchdogs, they are high maintenance and never became popular as family pets. But now security dog users worldwide are eager to get some Black Russian Terriers. The double coat on these dogs makes them particularly useful in cold climates, while the size, intelligence, trainability, and size made the breed very popular.

One place where Black Russian Terriers are being tried out is China. Over the last decade China has increased its use of military working dogs considerably and now has over 10,000 large dogs employed for security, rescue, and detection (of explosives or drugs). Most Chinese military dogs are 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). As part of this selection and training process many foreign breeds are being checked out.

Most of the Chinese military dogs are Western breeds (mainly 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.

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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