If there are two universally recognized symbols of Hitler's regime in Germany the first is the swastika and the second would be the Nazi salute. It is difficult for most people to find a link between the Nazi salute and dogs, however there are at least two such instances and both proved to be an embarrassment to the German government.
The first involved German war dogs. From the beginning of the 20th century the German military recognized the military value of dogs and had a large contingent of well-trained animals which were a point of pride for the German army. In the years leading up to World War II, the Germans trained their military dogs to respond to certain hand signals. One of these was the traditional command for "halt", involving an extended arm with the palm outward. There is a report that shortly after Hitler assumed power, trained army dogs were included as part of a military parade which passed him in review. As the dog handlers approached, the Fuhrer gave the Nazi salute. The obedient dogs saw what they believed to be a familiar signal and immediately responded according to their training by sitting down. Of course, the troops immediately behind, who were moving with their eyes rigidly facing forward in the German marching style, promptly stumbled over them, resulting in a chaotic pile of dogs and people. The dog handlers were so embarrassed that they were forced to retrain the dogs to a new signal.
Klaus Hillenbrand, a historian and author, recently discovered the second incident involving a dog and the Nazi salute in some records stored on microfilm by the German Foreign Ministry. This affair occurred in 1941, when Hitler and the military were involved in planning their invasion of the Soviet Union. It involved a businessman named Tor Borg who lived in Finland (a country that was not occupied by the Reich but was friendly to the Nazis) and he had a black-and-white dog named Jackie. According to Willy Erkelenz, who was the German vice consul in Helsinki, there was a report that someone saw Borg's dog raise his forepaw in a canine version of the Nazis salute when given the command "Hitler."
The German government apparently was so enraged by this apparent use of a dog to insult to their leader, that it launched a major inquiry and planned to prosecute the dog's owner. They even considered ruining the Borg's pharmaceutical business which depended on German suppliers. They initiated their investigation by calling Borg into the German embassy for questioning. He admitted that his wife Josephine (a known anti-Nazi German) had called the dog Hitler, but according to Borg, she did so when the dog spontaneously raised its forepaw in a manner which reminded her of the Nazi salute. He insisted that his wife was responding to the dog's behavior and that no affront was intended against the German Reich.
The matter went well beyond the embassy German Embassy and apparently was also discussed by the Economy Ministry and the Chancellery of the Nazi Government. Ultimately it was referred to the German Foreign Office which spent three months investigating the situation and seeking ways of bringing Borg to trial for insulting Hitler. However, despite all of their efforts, no witnesses would come forward and the Chancellery decided that "considering that the circumstances could not be solved completely, it is not necessary to press charges".
With the investigation ended, no actions were taken against Borg or his company, which, now known as the Tamro Group, became one of the Nordic region's most successful pharmaceutical firms. Borg died in 1959 and apparently the "dog incident" was swept under the carpet since when I checked with Tamro Group they informed me that they had not been aware of the dog's controversial role in history before now.
Hillenbrand commented "This is a funny story, but it is a Nazis story which tells how they were looking for enemies everywhere." He went on to note how the dozens of people holding high positions in the German government were involved in this issue for an extended period of time, and he concluded with the observation "Just months before the Nazis launched their attack on the Soviet Union they had nothing better to do than to obsess about this dog."
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome
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