In a Nutshell
In 1924, the USSR approved the military use of canines during warfare. In the ’30s, however, they decided to make them a little more destructive than they had planned. Using Pavlovian-esque conditioning techniques, these dogs were trained to destroy tanks.
The Whole Bushel
In 1924, the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR sanctioned the use of stray dogs for military purposes. The dogs were generally used for search and rescue, food transportation, and courier duties. In the ’30s, however, the USSR realized these dogs could be trained and conditioned to unwittingly sacrifice themselves for the Soviet cause by strapping mines to their torsos and then training them to search for food on the underbellies of tanks.
In 1935, the first anti-tank dogs were trained. Using the 12 canine schools that were originally used to train some 50,000 dogs for less nefarious purposes, they conditioned these dogs by starving them and hiding their food under tanks. During warfare, these dogs were strapped with bags that carried explosives with a lever that stuck up in the air and detonated the explosives when they crawled under tanks.
In their war debut in 1941, most dogs were too frightened by the tanks as they were moving, simply because they were trained using stationary tanks without turrets and machine guns. These dogs would run to the tanks, become frightened and turn around, only to be shot by German soldiers or the Soviets themselves. Some dogs returned to the Soviet line only to have the explosives detonate and kill Soviet soldiers.
German soldiers examined dead dogs shot on the battlefield and studied the explosive mechanisms. The German propaganda machine used these findings to attack the Soviets and to tell the public of their cowardice. The Nazis were all too happy to use this example of Soviet animal abuse to stir up public hatred of the Russians. The Nazis themselves, in an act of twisted irony, enacted several anti-animal abuse laws, such as the banning of vivisection in animals (but obviously not human beings).
Use of these dogs died down after a year or two as they were not proven to be effective.