Source: Stuff (Extract)
Posted: February 22, 2024

More than 100,000 New Zealanders served in World War I and alongside them was Caesar the bulldog.

The Defence Force’s first military working dog Caesar started out as a mascot for 4th Battalion NZ Rifle Brigade and was sent overseas to help boost morale.

When they arrived in Egypt, his handler Thomas Samuel Tooman was sent to be an ambulance driver, and he trained his hound as a Red Cross dog.

Harnessed with medical supplies, water and writing materials, Caesar was taught how to guide a wounded soldier back to the trenches, and helped to find them on the battlefields of the Western Front.

Caesar was eventually killed by a German sniper during the battle of The Somme.

He and many other service animals who died during various conflicts would be remembered at a ceremony in Waiouru on Saturday honouring Purple Poppy Day.

The role they had within the Defence Force had changed over the years, and military working dog capability manager Alan Inkpen said they offered something no technology could replace.

He said different dogs were used for different capabilities, such as labradors for detecting explosives, and belgian shepherds for patrolling and security.

Some were embedded into an infantry patrol as part of the team.

For this they were taught how to survive 72 hours with just the essential items taken in by their handler.

The Defence Force now had about 35 to 40 teams of a handler and their dog, and it took about 12 weeks to get the canines ready for action.

Inkpen said each dog’s career lasted about seven years and their hope was that they would then be retired to their handler.

Training was focused on positive reinforcement and utilised “games”, but it was also adapted to modern warfare.

Inkpen said the dogs were for subduing a threat without using lethal force.

Rules of engagement meant they could not shoot someone unless they posed a direct threat, but the dogs were able to work remotely, tracking and detaining a target if they fled.

This was put to the test in a “rogue scenario” at Linton Military Camp on Wednesday morning.

Armed soldiers conducted a vehicle stop, and when the driver refused to comply with orders, Private Tim Mitchell commanded his dog Remco to attack.

Muzzled to stop any serious injuries, Remco quickly took down the balaclava-clad enemy who was taken into custody.

Pacer, the black labrador, then stepped in and, guided by his handler, searched the suspect’s vehicle.

Very quickly he sat down by the petrol flap indicating something was inside.

Inkpen said military working dogs helped reduce the risk to personnel, but their welfare was also a priority.

He spent 27 years as a dog trainer for the British Army before coming to New Zealand, and was now in charge of all dogs across the Defence Force.

He said he was lucky to have landed a job he considered a hobby.

Reflecting on Purple Poppy Day, he said it was important to remember service animals were not just dogs.

The Defence Force had previously used pigeons, horses and even camels, and the Americans used dolphins and seals to find mines underwater.

“When I was in Iraq … they couldn’t bring the vessels in until it was cleared by the dolphins.”

Waiouru’s service will be held at the National Army Museum on Saturday at 11am. Pets are welcome but must be on a lead or in an appropriate carrier.