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Dogs in Afghanistan, Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989)

The war in Afghanistan (1979-1989) is a striking example of how "four-legged soldiers" saved lives, sacrificing their own. Sapper dogs possess incredible senses, learn quickly, and demonstrate remarkable bravery on the battlefield. Thus, they remain indispensable assistants to the army, even with the advancement of high technology in the military field.

Dogs in Afghanistan

Dogs as sappers

Training shepherd dogs during the war took on average up to a year. Such extensive preparation was necessary because a mistake on a minefield led to the inevitable death of both the dog and its handler.

By the end of their training, dogs were required to have certain qualities beyond a good sense of smell: lack of aggressiveness (the dog must remain calm and composed while searching for mines), fearlessness around people (shepherds had to constantly be around a large number of soldiers), and suppression of reactions to external stimuli (noise, unfamiliar smells, bright lights - all of which could cause panic in a sapper dog).

German shepherds were trained alongside the soldiers who acted as their handlers. The training did not involve coercion or violence against the dogs; instead, they were rewarded with treats or favorite toys for successfully completing tasks. While mine-clearing is a risky and demanding job for soldiers, for the dog, it was more like a game, with rewards for winning.

Dogs in Afghanistan

Why didn't soldiers use the latest mine detectors and relied on dogs instead? This approach is explained by the development of plastic mines "ТС-11.5" in Italy, which had only one small metal part (such mines were used by Afghan insurgents during the war). As a result, mine detectors couldn't detect these mines, but the dogs' sense of smell allowed them to quickly find them, as all mines emitted the scent of explosives. This again proves the irreplaceable role of dogs in military operations.

Trained shepherds worked as follows: if the dog found a mine, it would sit and start barking, knowing that it could only move when a stake with a red flag was placed next to the mine.

Dogs in Afghanistan
Staged photo of Airborne sappers

Despite their ideal training and keen supervision, tragic incidents still occurred. Afghan soldiers used various concealing methods to prevent mines from being found: wrapping mine contacts in paper, covering them with soil, or placing boards over them.

Overall, during the 10-year war period, search dogs found more than 7 million mines and saved countless Soviet soldiers. This was all thanks to the incredible endurance and loyalty of the dogs, their quick decision-making, and their fearlessness in the face of adversity.

Dogs in Afghanistan
Colorized photo of a sapper

Dogs as pets

Some of those sapper dogs, who have lost some of their abilities, would be kept in the units as guard dogs. This was not official, but a common practice nevertheless. While their main function was now abandoned, they could still be useful as regular pets - bringing joy and comfort to those soldiers and officers who admired animals. Many of these dogs, as well as local ones, would live on bases, often giving offspring, resulting in adorable puppies for soldiers to play with.

Dogs in Afghanistan

Some dogs would end up living on the outposts and smaller distant bases. They could, sometimes, be incredibly useful for the survivability of the unit. Getting used to regular smell of the Soviet soldiers, their weaponry and equipment, these dogs would feel the forthcoming of any person who did not belong to the team. There are many cases, noted in memoirs, of how these dogs managed to alarm the soldiers on the outpost about the incoming enemy, preventing them to be caught off guard.

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