Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Ethics and Morality

War, Morality, and Exploding Dogs

Using dogs as mobile explosive devices has a long history.

Many people were shocked by the recent article written in the respected French daily newspaper with Le Figaro. It concerned an Al Qaeda plot to bring down an airplane bound for the United States using bomb carrying dogs. The plot unfolded in 2008, when Al Qaeda operatives grabbed two stray dogs off the street and surgically implanted powerful explosives and detonators in each. The dogs were then placed in kennel carriers and sent to the Baghdad airport to be loaded onto a flight to the United States. It is not all that unusual for dogs to fly from Iraq to the US, since several animal rescue groups work there in an attempt to give Iraqi dogs new American homes, and many soldiers have also adopted dogs which they want to bring home with them.

The plot failed because the bombs were so badly surgically implanted that the dogs died. US soldiers working in the airport's cargo area noticed that the animals were dead. They soon discovered the bombs stitched inside them, and later determined that they were set to explode when the plane was in flight.

exploding bomb dog ied mobile mine

This is not the first time that Iraqi militants have tried to turn dogs into explosive delivering devices. In 2005 terrorists wrapped an explosive belt around a dog and detonated it in an attempt to blow up a military convoy near the northern oil center of Kirkuk. The dog was torn apart by the explosion which, however, caused neither injury to the soldiers nor any damage to the vehicles. A year later terrorists posted a video showing a dog sitting by a roadside near Baghdad wearing some sort of contrivance. On the video we see a military vehicle approaching and when it is close to the dog there is a large explosion. Since the video does not continue beyond that point, it is unknown as to whether or not the vehicle was damaged, however the dog would certainly not have survived.

When these cases became known there was a large degree of moral outrage at the cruelty of these Jihadist terrorists. However these Islamic militants were not the first to try to attempt to turn dogs into suicide bombers. This was an invention of the Russians, who developed the idea of using dogs as mobile mines during the 1930s.

Russian anti tank dog german panzer
Russian anti tank dog

Faced with the Nazi Blitzkrieg and inadequate technology to deal with German tanks, they decided to use dogs against the armored onslaught. The idea was that a bomb would be fastened onto a dog and detonated upon contact with the target, hopefully destroying the tank. The dogs were trained by keeping them hungry, and then placing their food under tanks. Initially the tanks were left standing still, then later they had their engines running, and even later the sound of sporadic blank gunfire and other battle related distractions were added. Each dog was fitted with a 25 pound bomb which had a safety pin which was removed before the dog was deployed and was not designed to be disarmed. A wooden lever extended out of the harness and was designed so that when the dog ran under a tank, the lever would strike the chassis and explode the bomb. How efficient these dogs were is a matter of some controversy. Soviet sources claimed that around 300 tanks were damaged by their anti-tank dogs although this number is disputed by German sources. There certainly are confirmed reports of some successes. For example at the front of the 160th infantry division near Glukhov, dogs damaged 5 German tanks. Later, while defending the airport at Stalingrad dogs destroyed 13 tanks. At the battle of Kursk, 16 dogs disabled 12 German tanks which had broken through the Soviet lines of defense.

However there were problems with these canine mobile mines. If a dog was frightened by the commotion and activity on the battlefield, it might return to its handlers, and when it jumped into the trenches the bomb was likely to detonate killing friendly troops. Another problem was due to a poor training strategy. Soviet tanks were used to train the dogs, and they ran on diesel fuel. The German tanks however, used gasoline. Because dogs are so attentive to the smells around them, the German tanks seemed quite different than the Russian tanks that they had trained with. Thus it was not unheard of, for a dog to seek out a Soviet tank behind the Russian lines because it smelled of diesel rather than the German tank in front of it which smelled of gasoline.

There was also, however, a psychological problem for the Soviet soldiers. The dog trainers and handlers began to rebel at the cruelty involved in destroying dogs that they had worked with and often formed an emotional bond with. If, for example, a dog turned away from the tank and started to run back towards the Soviet trenches, to prevent injury to the soldiers should the bomb detonate, returning dogs had to be shot, often by the very people who had cared for them. Even if the dog was successful, the trainers had to watch an animal that they knew well as it died a horrible death that they had it sent it to. This made the dog handlers unwilling to work with new dogs, and some doubted the morality of their superiors complaining that the Army was not happy with just sacrificing people to the war but felt that it was necessary to slaughter innocent trusting dogs as well. Such moral qualms about the fate of the dogs have not been voiced by the Al Qaeda militants, however.

From about 1941 onwards, the German forces were quite aware of the Soviet bomb dogs and took measures to defend against them. The machine gun mounted on the armored vehicles proved to be ineffective due to the relatively small size of the attacking dogs, and also due to the fact that they were too low to the ground and moved very fast. Eventually orders were issued to all German soldiers on the front lines, to shoot any dog that they saw in combat areas. Following this action, the use of antitank dogs by the Soviet army rapidly declined.

One hopes that we are not facing a new spate of exploding dogs as weapons, this time in the Middle East. As Mahatma Gandhi said "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated."

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

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today
More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today