As natural defenders and protectors, early humans learned to harness the traits and behaviors of dogs to help in their own lives. Early militaries, dating back as early as before fifth century BC, used large sized mastiff type dogs to act in military operations, often rushing ahead of the first lines of soldiers on the battlefields. These dogs, while aggressive in battle, also were camp companions and protectors and largely were treated as military animals, fed and cared for at least in rudimentary form.
The Romans were perhaps the civilization most recognized for using large breeds of dogs, known as the Molossers or Molossians, which are likely the direct ancestors of the modern day Mastiff breeds. The Molossers had huge bodies, thick necks, massive, strong jaws and were very athletic. Unlike the modern Mastiff the Molossers seem to have had a more hound-like body, not as heavy and stocky as that of the modern Mastiff. This slight change in body type is reflected in ancient depictions of dogs in battle during Roman times. The Romans, however, didn't just use these huge dogs as military or war animals. They also used them in controlling the population of slaves within the Roman Empire. In this fashion these dogs may have been the earliest police type dogs, trained to chase down and hold slaves that attempted to flee or escape. While a horrible thought in modern civilizations, this class system was the norm during the peak of the Roman Empire.
Dogs were then used again as attack and control animals during the Spanish Inquisition. When the military forces overran different native civilizations, dogs were used to find and attack fleeing people, as well as to patrol and guard prisoners. These dogs were described as hounds, however it is highly likely that they were some type of Greyhound or sight hound crossed with the heavier Mastiff breeds. These large sized dogs were also brought to North and South America with the first explorers for hunting, as war dogs and for protecting the camps.
Not all early military and police dogs were used for aggression; some were also used for tracking, packing and carting, as well as carrying messages. Although not as common in early military campaigns, they became very popular in World War l in these specific roles. The Bouvier des Flanders is one of the breeds that almost became extinct because of heavy use in the war, resulting in a decimation of the numbers. In the war in Vietnam there were up to 4000 dogs used to sniff out bombs in villages, farms and even in tunnels that were dug into the ground. Many of these dogs perished, however they saved thousands of lives. Different types of dogs in all wars in American wars have served as Red Cross Dogs, carrying medical supplies and equipment to and from the front lines. Larger breeds were also used to haul rudimentary stretchers in a travois type fashion, helping bring wounded soldiers from the front to makeshift hospitals and camps.
Military dogs continue to be used today. They are mostly used in bomb detection, tracking and as sentries for patrolling and protecting military camps, bases and installations. American use of military dogs became much more common after World War ll and while they are still not as common as in other countries, they are a valuable asset. Most military dogs are Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Shepherds, German Pinschers and even Labrador Retrievers and mixed breeds. Less emphasis is placed on the breed or appearance of the dog and more on his or her abilities.
Police dogs have been used in European countries far longer than officially used in the United States. The first police dogs in the United States were used in the early 1900's, mostly as tracking animals. Modern police dogs are trained and deployed in a variety of types of roles within the current day police and security forces. While the German Shepherd Dog is still considered the norm as an active field dog, there are lots of other breeds that all have their specialized role as police dogs.
Within police departments there are dogs used for tracking, protection, subduing and restraining fugitives as well as detecting criminals that may be in hiding in a building or area. These dogs often are called K-9 units and travel with a regular police officer that is known as their handler. The dog is an officer just like the human, and dogs can advance through the ranks and be recognized for their bravery and action on the police force. In almost all countries that use police dogs, injuring or killing a police dog is the same as injuring or killing a human officer, resulting in the most severe legal sanctions possible.
Besides dogs in the field, which are often the German and Belgian Shepherds, there are also other breeds routinely used in police work. Beagles, Bloodhounds and Labrador Retrievers are often used as scent dogs, trained to track humans, but also to sniff out drugs, bombs, chemicals and fruits and vegetables that are being smuggled into the country. These dogs can also be used to search boats and trucks for illegal items or even for humans that are hidden within the cargo.
There are also dogs that are trained by police departments and private groups to be cadaver dogs. These dogs are trained to scent the presence, even when deeply buried or covered with other odors, of human remains. Typically these dogs are called in when the police have a general area to search for a body, but cannot pinpoint the exact area. Any breed of dog that has an outstanding trainability level and an ability to scent can be used for this highly specialized role.
Other dogs used by both police and military include the search and rescue dogs. Typically larger breeds, any dog that is intelligent, obedient and has a good sense of smell can be trained to search out lost and missing people. These dogs are often used in the most dangerous of situations to search through disaster sites to look for survivors that may be unable to call out for help.