Xenia A. Cherkaev

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA

Elena N. Tipikina

Borey Art Center, St. Petersburg, Russia

Articles. Research

A pedigree of a purebred German Shepherd born during the Leningrad blockade was accidentally discovered amidst office waste – and now lies safely stored in a state archive. Our study of the interspecies relationships forged between humans and service dogs in the extreme conditions of blockade and war begins with this document. The story of the several hundred large dogs that survived the Leningrad blockade has long remained untold: the dogs' survival seemed unethical in relation to the memory of people who died of starvation. These pedigreed dogs were collected from the civilian population in the fall of 1941 and survived the first and second blockade winters in a military engineering unit where they and their handlers were trained to detect hidden explosives. Our article opens a new history of these mine-dog units that quickly became famous on the Leningrad front. It is known that the soviet theory of dog training was based on the “scientifically-objective theory of reflexes.” We show the practical side of this method: the use of service dogs for military aims rested, we argue, on the personal affectionate bonds formed between dog and handler. While formally remaining a military technology, mine-detection dogs acted as humans' trusted partners and independent historical actors. We show how the centralized Stalinist system, without invading intimate personal realms of interspecies affection, nevertheless planned for and encouraged such affectionate ties in militarized state institutions, where most everything was subordinated to ideological influence: most everything, except the innate species-specific behavior of the dogs themselves.


Keywords: Interspecies communication; Military dogs; Soviet German Shepherd dogs; Animals during the Leningrad blockade; Vsevolod Yazykov; Osoaviakhim; Women mine clearance engineers