Dogs of War 2: Man’s Best Friend

Man did not tame dogs; dogs tamed men.  I saw the ancient drama played out again just the other day.  Marine foot patrols come in with a couple of dogs at their sides.  The dogs look very official, very proud.  With their heads held high, they are guard dogs or at least guard dog wannabees.  They take the point; they secure the flanks; they bark at anybody or anything that seems to be a threat to “their” Marines.

When I asked the Marines about the dogs, they told me that these were not their dogs.  The dogs just showed up and attached themselves to particular patrols.  There is some kind of pack order among the dogs.  The Marines said that certain dogs follow certain patrols.  The dogs spread out or pack in close depending on the situation.  When they cross the territories of other, hostile, dog packs, they come in closer to Marines.  In open country the range out further.  When the Marines come home, the dogs sit outside the gates and bark at any intruders.   They recognize the uniforms, the smells, sounds or something else.  I don’t know, but they have assigned the security and accompanying job to themselves and in some situations they provide a useful service.  They make it much harder for the bad guys to sneak up, if any bad guys would be stupid enough to try. 

So what do the dogs get out of this?

The Marines didn’t seem to know the answer.  Maybe the dogs just like to be around people.  Maybe it is a mutual protection racket. All these things are probably true, but one of the Marines inadvertently hit on one of the big reasons.  He said, “I don’t know what they want.  We didn’t even feed them AT FIRST.”  Even Colonel Malay, who told me the story of the Ahab dogs in my earlier dogs of war post, admitted that he gave them a few scraps from the chow hall.  I did too.  Everybody does and thinks he is the only one, or it is only this one time.  The dogs know better.  They have learned a body language that gets us to give them what they want.  We humans cannot resist the cute dog.  We are conditioned to support and reward the dogs, just as the dogs are conditioned to guard us.  It is primeval.  Something in our Pleistocene genes compels the partnership. 

No dogs in the above picture, BTW, just an ordinary foot patrol picture.

I felt more secure with these unknown dogs trotting along at my sides.  Of course my furry new buddies would have been absolutely no use against the dangers likely to beset me on an Iraqi street.  My civilized intellect understands this, but my Cro-Magnon core still ain’t got the news.