War Dogs – A Useful Secondary Source

Frankel, Rebecca. War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and LoveNew York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2014.

war dogs

Rebecca Frankel’s War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love is a book dedicated to those dogs serving in the military, both presently and in the past. Frankel intertwines historical accounts of dogs utilized during various American wars (including World War I) with modern day militarized dogs being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, through her own experiences speaking with current dog handlers, Frankel explores themes of heroism, love, human war experiences and animal war experiences. Her primary questions include: how have militarized dogs been used in the past? What about the present? What relationships develop between man and dog during wartime? How? What do dogs contribute to man’s wartime experiences? Frankel, herself, has admitted that while she set out to write a book about dogs, what resulted was a book about people and the bonds that develop between handlers and their canines during a manmade experience that has historically not been wholly limited to human beings.

Recently published (in late 2014), I had a difficult time unearthing a good number of reviews of this particular book. Upon searching for book reviews, many times I came across Frankel’s own articles, webinars, or other endeavors involving Frankel promoting her new book. Nevertheless, I did discover a Washington Post review in which the reviewer states that, It would be nice to think that this fine book will cause the military to keep the MWD program active, if necessarily smaller, and to continue research into the ways in which dogs can help us, but history — the history of the American military especially — leaves little reason to believe that will happen.  Thus, while this particular reviewer can appreciate what a “fine” book this is, he does not believe that dogs will continue to be used during wartime despite research such as Frankel’s that prove their usefulness for man.

Furthermore, according to Google Scholar, this book has not yet been cited by any other academics. This is most likely due to its very recent publication and not due to its content, presumably.

Ultimately, I was unable to find any negative reactions to Frankel’s work. Interestingly, Frankel is not a historian, however. Rather, she is an editor for Foreign Policy (a self-purported global magazine) and has a weekly article dedicated to war dogs. Indeed, it seems Frankel took her primary interests and expanded her research in order to create a book about the militarized dogs of past and present. Frankel’s own experiences (as mentioned above) with present day handlers add an element of authenticity to her story as she experienced first-hand the intimate relationship between handlers and their dogs.

The intended audience for this book is a bit tricky to pin down. As Frankel is not a historian (as mentioned previously), the book is certainly intended for a more popular audience, perhaps those who are dedicated readers of her weekly article. It reads easily and is highly accessible. This is not to say it will not be useful for historians (including myself), however. Upon searching through the book’s sources, it becomes quite obvious that Frankel did her homework and thoroughly. She includes a variety of primary and secondary sources, many of which are academic. Thus, her work appears to be a mixture of popular reporting and academic researching.

In fact, many of the primary sources Frankel uses will prove useful for me as well. One source, Animal Heroes of the Great War, is a book published in 1925 after the conclusion of the war and is chock full of pertinent information related to my research paper. I surprisingly had not come across this highly useful source until reading War Dogs. Furthermore, Frankel’s discussion of Lieutenant Col. Richardson, one of the pioneers in the British war dog training movement, also is extremely pertinent to my paper. Indeed, Richardson himself wrote a training manual concerning the training of war dogs and I plan to use his book as one of my primary sources as well. Lastly, Frankel also includes some interesting insight into the psychology of dogs with thoughts from Charles Darwin in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. I never would have thought of looking more closely into the intricacies of animal psychology (and dogs more specifically) but I am finding Darwin’s thoughts highly interesting and potentially useful.

Ultimately, Rebecca Frankel’s War Dogs has and will continue to be an indispensable resource for me. I am grateful that I did not allow its journalistic slant or popular audience basis deter me from exploring what it has to offer.


Yardley, Jonathan. “‘War Dogs’ by Rebecca Frankel.” The Washington Post. Last modified October 17, 2014. Accessed February 6, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/war-dogs-by-rebecca-frankel/2014/10/17/76594a86-4d54-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_story.html.