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Shepherds of Thuringia

War Dogs -Vietnam

November 18th 2012 5:45 pm
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I was at a tack sale with our Mounted Search and Rescue group. Bob and Tuck were sitting on one of the tables being available to pet. Some man came up and said. AN ELKHOuND!!! I smiled that he knew what they were. And he said.. They are the BEST DOGS.. I said he was an Army military k9 handler in Vietnam. and I listened to hear what he had to say. I asked him to sit down, and he did. Tuck and Bob both fawned all over him, and the feeling was mutual. He sat down to an afternoon of sharing a remarkable story.

I have to share it with you.

He went on about three dogs that he handled during his tour of Vietnam. He told me that War dogs were not brought home from there.. They killed them when their tour was up. This disturbed me. Two of the dogs he handled were German Shepherds, and the other was an Elkhound, named Freya. I recalled someone else recently making a reference to Elkhounds being used in Vietnam as tunnel dogs. Having the experience with heat and Elkhounds that I have had.. I really have questions about how dogs hold up in tropical heat and working.

I asked him how his Elkhound did in the heat. He said.. not too bad. And as a working dog handler, I knew we could speak the same language.

He said his dog was a mine sniffing dog. When we discussed working as mine sniffing as compared to tracking, he said Tracking dogs don't/CAN'T pant while working trail, thus they have no way of cooling themselves. (Yes, I knew this) but mine sniffing dogs work intermittently, sampling sniffs. Mine sniffers, work a little, and pant a lot. Which is why explosives dogs are able to work in intense heat. I've always wondered. Now I know.

He went on to tell about his Elkhound, and his Elkhound was the best dog he ever worked with. He said the Elkhound would not work on lead. Off lead, she was just the best, most reliable dog of any he had handled during his tour of duty in Vietnam.

But, as soon as he snapped a leash on her collar.. she was done. (my experience with Elkhounds too, and probably the thing I like best about working with them. When you flip the switch and ask for work... they work themselves into the ground. and just don't quit. until you flip the switch off.. and they turn off completely and vanish within inches, and you don't even know they are in the house, even though they may be surrounding you everywhere on the floor.

He said, he would work 2 weeks in the field, and then rotate back to camp for 3 weeks. He had 11 days left before coming home, and was really worried about the fate of his dog, knowing they never sent Vietnam war dogs home.

He finished work for that day, and a Boat came down the river after him and two other reconnaissance men working with his team. He was done for the day. He snapped the leash on his dog, and they all walked to the boat picking them up.

And then it happened. They had not cleared the area to the bank between them and the boat. The dog was no longer working, and failed to detect a problem.

The second man in line stepped on a land mine. Two men, the elkhound were killed, and the man who was speaking to me, had lost his leg in a land mine explosion.

He pulled out a picture and showed me his dog, WITHOUT QUESTION... it WAS an ELKHOUND!! I asked him to please scan this picture and email it to me. I'd like to share it with my Elkhound friends. I felt it was a valuable piece of breed history. I only had a piece of scrap paper, and scribbled my name, email address, and snail mail address and handed it over to him. with him in uniform.

I'm so excited. I have had so much troubles with tracking elkhounds in heat, I never could wrap my mind around working an elkhound as a scenting dog in the tropics.

Until he explained to me the difference of scenting style of the mine sniffing dogs as compared to the trailing dog. He reassured me that the Elkhound as a tracking dog in the tropics probably wouldn't work. He said the Elkhound was not a common breed, but his elkhound was not the only elkhound used in the war effort.

He enjoyed working with the elkhound, because they had keen noses, worked until they were told to stop. Were very conscientious and accurate (I've always said the same thing. just differently phrased.. it's the incorruptible character thing)
When an Elkhound stopped.. it stopped. A great thing for me, easy to live with.. but a very fatal flaw for two men and the dog that day.

He said the Elkhound worked hard, was easier to carry out than a 100 pound Shepherd. It took far less to feed in a war, where they carried everything on their backs for the two weeks they were out. The food efficiency of the elkhound was phenomenal, when it was the handler who had to carry all supplies for two week outings.

They did not take as much room. They turned off, and weren't constantly whining, like a shepherd often did. The TURN OFF factor was far less likely to tip their position off in proximity to the enemy.

He said his elkhound went boldly and confidently everywhere. But she was always very careful how she placed her feet. Where the German Shepherds and Labs were almost clumsy with their feet in an oafish kind of manner.

I never gave these qualities a thought, but they did make sense. It also corroborated the report a few weeks ago of someone else claiming to have an Elkhound as a tunnel dog in Vietnam.

I never thought of Elkhounds as being war dogs, beyond sled dogs of historic fame, but not ever in modern war area circumstances, and certainly NOT in the tropics.

I just had to share.
I keep checking my mail, hoping he scans that picture.. and no, it's not here yet, or I would have attached it.

I had a great afternoon listening to War stories of a Vietnam Vet. I bet he never had such a rapt and intense listener. I thanked him for sharing.


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