I remember reading in some older books about ancient combat that animals would sometimes get "into the fight" so to speak. For lack of a better term, this was evidenced by horses actually attacking (via kicking or trampling) the enemy forces. And other accounts discussed how elephants would sometimes get angry enough that they'd almost seem to enjoy killing the humans in their path.

Are there any historical records to back this up? Supposedly mastiffs are descended from a single dog who stood over his owner's injured body and fought off his assailants until rescue arrived. Are there other historical records of animals going "beyond and above the call of duty?" in the midst of battle?

  • Welcome to History.SE. Though I do believe our site does already have some similar questions in regards to animals used in battle, it does appear that your question has some unique aspects. Enjoy History.SE – E1Suave Jun 5 '12 at 22:00

A lot of it comes from conditioning and training the animal to battle conditions along with genetics.

For horses, Kikkuli, the master horse trainer of Hittites in 1345 BCE, described his methods for conditioning horses or chariot warfare in one of the first horse training treatises. His methods aren't too far removed from techniques used today.

Europeans, Mongols and Arabs bred horses specifically for their warfare needs, either swift combat maneuvers or the ability to carry a armored person into battle without fear. Horses that failed to make the grade genetically were moved to farm work or simply eaten.

One legendary horse is Alexander the Great's Bucephalus. This horse was noted for his ability in battle, stamina and ability to survive. The link also mentions Comanche, the only US military survivor, equine or human, from the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Remember though that most horses didn't survive battles.

Dogs were also bred for battle and specifically trained for it. Some breeds are still with us today, such as the mastiff, while other breeds have faded away, like the Alaunt.

During the battle of Marathon, it was related by some historians of the time that at least one hoplite brought his dog with him and the dog fought the Persians alongside him. Like horses, war dogs didn't often survive battles and thus didn't become the stuff of legend, at least by name, until recently.

Even today, most war dogs work in obscurity. One exception is the Belgian Malinois war dog named Cairo that was in on the Navy SEAL's Bin Laden raid.

  • Great answer. I suppose this is as good a time as any to let you know I have really appreciated your answers and the knowledge you have shared. :–) – E1Suave Jun 6 '12 at 2:47
  • Regardless of how well it addresses the actual question, I love this answer. – T.E.D. Jun 6 '12 at 14:24
  • @T.E.D. - In researching it, I mainly looked around for stuff related to Bucephalus, since that was the war animal that first came to mind. If they weren't associated with a famous military leader, animals didn't get much mention in ancient accounts. More recently, given our changes in society, they get mentioned by name. Check out this account of 'war cats' I ran across: care2.com/greenliving/5-famous-cats-of-war.html – jfrankcarr Jun 6 '12 at 15:00
  • Wow. Found something cool in there. Check out my answer. – T.E.D. Jun 6 '12 at 15:47

From a link @jfrankcarr posted in the comments, I discovered there is actually a medal awarded in the UK to animals for service in wartime: The Dickin Medal.

However, most of them seem to have been awarded to pigeons for delivering important messages, and most of the rest to dogs for helping with search and/or rescue operations. I didn't see any instance in there of a dog going Buck wild on the enemy.

However, there was the dog Sam, who was awarded the medal for taking down an armed gunman, and later for helping hold out against a riot.

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