FunNature & AnimalRussian war dogs against tanks

Russian war dogs against tanks

Since the first year of the 20th century, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov began his study of classical stimulus-response conditioning. The study subject was dogs. For Pavlov, each stimulus that an animal received had a response. Animals innately have reflex responses to natural stimuli , for example turning their heads when they hear a startling sound, or start salivating when they see food. Pavlov thought that perhaps such responses could be conditioned from stimuli that, initially, were unrelated to him.

He began to play a metronome as he offered them food . The dogs evidently salivated in response to the presence of food. The physiologist’s hypothesis was that the dogs would end up associating both stimuli as one, and he would manage to make them salivate with the sound of the metronome, without there being food. And he got it. The study of Pavlovian conditioning was born.

And since humans are who we are, one of the first applications of Pavlovian conditioning in dogs was for warfare.

Russian dogs go to war

During the 1920s, the Red Army created the combat training department. To do this, they organized a training system for dog training specialists. They began with breeders of hunting dogs and trainers of circus and rescue dogs, and applied to the letter the knowledge gained from Pavlovian conditioning. In 1930 the Cynological Institute was founded and the first manual for the use of dogs of the Red Army military service was published.

Different breeds of dogs were used for different functions. The strong and corpulent ones to pull sleds ; others slower and more attentive who were trained as people and mine sniffers , for transporting medical supplies or ammunition, or as rescue dogs. The most intrepid and active dogs turned out to be the best for the most complicated task: to act as anti-tank dogs . For this, saddlebags were designed that were removed by pulling a lever, similar to how a parachute opens.

Training anti-tank dogs

The training was hard; the dogs had to overcome the fear of seeing a tank moving towards them while the thunderous sound of war surrounded them. To achieve this, they used the same stimulus as Pavlov : food. They placed their food bowls under tanks. The animals quickly assimilated that under a tank was the only place to find food. They were then accommodating the animals to go to food at greater distances, and acclimatized them to the noise of engines, shots and explosions.

The dogs were to get to the tank, pull the lever on their saddlebag to leave over forty pounds of explosive charge under it, on a timer, and return alive before the explosion. However, when put to the test, most of the dogs failed to drop the load and returned to their handler with saddlebags full of explosives . The training of the first group of dogs was a failure that lasted more than six months.

But the army’s ambition was greater than its love of animals, and after discovering that animals were indeed capable of reaching tanks, they decided to change the design of the explosive. They decided to place the lever facing upwards and skip the timer. In this way, they would free the hungry dogs, which would look for tanks where they could find food, and when they got under it, they would activate the lever with the body of the vehicle. The explosives would destroy the tank, although the dog would not be able to survive.

However, the first time the top 20 dogs were brought to the front, in the late summer of 1941, they experienced yet another failure. Moving Nazi tanks and cannon fire scared some dogs back into the trenches, causing 6 accidents . Others ran erratically and tried to hide; three of them accidentally activated the charge, three more were riddled by enemy weapons. Others chased the tanks without getting under them, and two were crushed to death. Four managed to partially fulfill their mission, exploding near the tanks, but they did not manage to deactivate them. And four dogs just ran away and were never heard from again.

Although some sources point to the successful use of bomb dogs between March and October 1942, assuring that they brought down up to 304 tanks in total , the truth is that at the end of the same year all attempts to continue using the dogs as mines were abandoned. mobile, probably due to the development of new weapons such as grenade launchers. However, the Russian military continued to employ dogs for message delivery, ammunition transport, sled pulling, rescue, and mine detection.

REFERENCES:

Grandin, T., & Deesing, MJ 2014. Behavioral Genetics and Animal Science. En Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals (pp. 1-40). Elsevier. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-12-394586-0.00001-9

Medvedev, G. 2010. Military cynologists. Dog-Shkola “Nika”.

Pavlov, IP 1928. Lectures on conditioned reflexes: Twenty-five years of objective study of the higher nervous activity (behavior) of animals. (WH Gantt, Trad.). Liverwright Publishing Corporation. DOI: 10.1037/11081-000

Veremeev, YG 2009. Anti-tank dog (mobile mines). Army Anatomy.

 

 

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