Dogs of war: In Afghanistan, a platoon's best friend has four legs and a wet nose

Both pets and working animals, they are warm comfort in a harsh environment.

Susannah Frankel
Friday 02 July 2010 00:00 BST

A ldous Huxley once famously opined: "To his dog, every man is Napoleon," which may go at least some way to explaining the presence of our four-legged friends on the battlefield and around it. Dogs in Afghanistan leap from planes (they're not sensitive to differences in height like we are, the story goes, although the RSPCA might beg to differ), and sniff out bombs – the US military trained German shepherds and Belgian Malinois for that purpose in Iraq.

Beyond their formal duties, however, it would be good to think that the domesticity of dogs remind those at war of a quieter and more gentle existence. A dog's tireless ability to lift our spirits, its irrepressible optimism in the face of adversity, and its loyalty surely touches the hearts of soldiers.

Leo Tolstoy knew this only too well. In War And Peace a small brown dog with its tail, stiff like a carrot, dashes on to the battlefield capturing the attention of an entire regiment and bringing laughter to the front line at its most painfully fraught. Then there's "the little lavender-grey dog" that attaches itself to the Russian prisoners of war and, in particular, to the old peasant Platon Karatayev', a clear symbol in the great novel of all that is good. The otherwise entirely sweet-natured creature howls only once – a harbinger that Karatayev has died. She appears a last time, however, having found someone new to love, as dogs do.

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