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Three baleful Irish Wolfhounds
figure 1  


dogs of war. Traditionally, the horrors of war, especially famine, sword, and fire.reference 1

And Cæsar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Até by his side, come hot from hell.
Shall in these confines, with a monarch’s voice,
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war.

Shakespeare: Julius Cæsar, iii. 1.

Contemporarily, it may refer to mercenaries.reference 2 Or it may refer, less metaphorically, to the K9 corps, literally dogs who participate in armed conflict.

The turn of phrase is still regularly invoked.  One of my favorite columnists, Paul Krugman, opened a 2002 op-ed piece this way: “Although other news has been drowned out by the barking of the dogs of war, something ominous is happening on the economic front.”reference 3

1. Brewer, E. Cobham. 2000. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Accessed Sep 5 2001 from http://


2. Urban Dictionary.Com. Tucows, Inc., Feb 22 2005. Accessed Feb 22 2005 from http://

3. Krugman, Paul. 2002. My Economic Plan. New York Times, Oct 4, A 24.
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spacer reproduction of a world war i poster about the Navy
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The dogs of war should not be confused with war dogs: those canines who serve in the military. The first official U.S. war dog was Stubby, a pit bull terrier. Although his recruitment was informal when he wandered into Camp Yale in 1917, Stubby's service eventually received official recognition. He was decorated as hero for saving several soldiers lives and was given credit for the capture of a German Spy. He retired after The Great War with the rank of sergeant, was honored at the White House, and went on to become the Georgetown University mascot.reference 4 Despite his New Haven origins, I imagine he was not sufficiently purebred to serve as the Elis' mascot.
4. Stubby the Military Dog. 2003. CT Military Department: History & Adventure. State of Connecticut. Accessed Aug 6 2008 from http:// mil/ cwp/ view.asp?A= 1351&Q= 257892.
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photograph of war dog Jack Brutus spacer
figure 3  
Stubby earned the sobriquet “Grandfather of the American War Dog,” but he was hardly the first.  Dogs were active during the Civil War as companions for the soldiers and during the Spanish-American War, “Jack Brutus” (figure 3) became the official mascot of Company K, First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Despite his fine military appearance, Brutus remained unofficial.reference 5
5. Ibid.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 shows Irish wolfhounds from the Hutchinson's Dog Encyclopedia.reference 6 These hounds are still on their leashes, though I have to wonder for how long. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is a poster for the U.S. Navy from WWI. The caption reads: “The American Watch-Dog; we're not looking for trouble, but we're ready for it.” As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Figure 3 is a photograph of Jack Brutus from the Smithsonian Institution. The work is in the public domain.

6. Hutchinson, Walter. 1935. Hutchinson's Dog Encyclopædia. London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd.




see also: loose the hounds Last updated: August 22, 2008
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