Pearson, C. “Four-Legged Poilus”: French Army Dogs, Emotional Practices and the Creation of Militarized Human-Dog Bonds, 1871–1918. Journal of Social History.
This article explores the militarization of dogs in France from the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war to the Armistice of 1918. Following the defeat of Germany in 1871, a handful of French army officers promoted dogs as essential military auxiliaries that would compensate for deficiencies in French masculinity and emotions. Militarizing the nineteenth-century narrative of dogs as emotionally sensitive creatures, trainers argued that interspecies love and attachment would provide the necessary foundation for harnessing dogs towards military ends. After a hesitant start, the army mobilized thousands of rescue, sentry, and messenger dogs during the First World War. This official enlistment of dogs existed alongside soldiers’ unofficial pet-keeping. Indifferent to soldiers’ emotional reliance on dogs, the army sought to police and prevent these informal human-dog attachments. This article contributes to the growing scholarly interest in animals and warfare through engagement with the history of emotions. It argues that training and pet-keeping were “emotional practices” (to use Monique Scheer’s term) that created bonds between dogs and humans. To understand human-canine relations we need to set them within their particular historical context and explore how face-to-face encounters between humans and dogs combine with cultural narratives to bind the species together in meaningful, varied, and sometimes conflictual ways.