Dogs and the Undead
All animals besides humans can instinctively detect traces of the Solanum virus, and nearly all have the same reaction to it: terror. Almost all living creatures will flee in terror from a zombie, and for the most part, this applies to dogs as well. Some dogs with a high level of devotion to their masters have been known to bite zombies when cornered. This contraction of Solanum is fatal to the dog, and only a momentary distraction to the zombie. One can expect the toxin to render the dog dead in hours, depending on the size and health of the dog. Thus it is important to train dogs being used against zombies never to bite them. Instead, they're trained to circle around and pounce on the zombie's back or rear of the knees, pushing the zombie to the ground. This is a highly effective tactic as zombies are notoriously uncoordinated and take much longer to get back on their feet than humans do.
Training Dogs for Zombie Warfare
As many dogs won't have what it would take to be a zombie killer, only few would be able to be trained. You'd need to find one with weight and time to train it. Additionally, it needs to be able to smell rotting flesh from a long distance.
Birth and Selection
Right from birth, potential K-9 units are exposed to minute amounts of zombie scent particles to acclimate them to the smell. When the pups are able to see and hear, they’re exposed to the live specimen—placed in a special cage with a chain-link fence separating them from a live zombie, and handlers would observe their reactions. The majority of pups would begin whining and crying out uncontrollably, and were listed as Betas, meaning unsuitable for zombie training. A few of the puppies, however, would lock eyes with the ghoul, arch its back in a defensive posture, and let out a low warning growl. These were listed as Alphas, but only a fraction of these make it through training and enter service. The Alpha pups are then evaluated by personality and permanently assigned to new handlers, who go through every step of training with their new partners.
Essentially the same obedience training given to any household dog, done specifically by the sniffer K-9 handlers so as to assert who will be leading in the partnership.
The same training given to dogs in military and law enforcement: drills, obstacle courses, and repeated command instructions, so that both the K and its handler will know, obey, and respond to commands and orders. This training makes a fun-loving pet into a disciplined solider.
The most important aspect of the K Corps training is how the Ks and their handlers respond to the walking dead. The dogs are trained so that they never bark unless commanded by their handler, never bite either a live or dead zombie, to keep moving when near a G, and to alert any live humans to the presence of a zombie. In combating the living dead, the animals are taught to use the terrain and even to trip or push over a G so as to buy time for its handler or other personnel to dispatch it. Most of their instructions in Z warfare were to operate on their own in infested areas without their handlers physically present, and to respond to verbal commands over the radio. For this part of training, the dogs were sent to a live hazard training course that became affectionately known as Hound Town.
The most basic use of dogs in zombie warfare is screening with Alarm dogs. These dogs have no specific training; they are just ordinary dogs placed in rows of separate cages or on strong tethers for their safety and the safety of others. Since a dog’s sense of smell allows it to detect minute amounts of the Solanum retrovirus, they are useful tools in screening for those infected with the virus when more advanced procedures are either unavailable or too time-consuming. Israel was the first nation to start using dogs in this manner. In screening refugees, they were made to pass by the dog cages one by one. If the animals remained calm or neutral, the refugee was “clean” and allowed to pass. If the dogs went freak out at a passing individual, however, then that individual was likely infected with Solanum and carted off for “disposal”. The animals also make for decent guard dogs for bases, alerting everyone present of an approaching zombie from miles away. Without the proper training, however, the dog will continue to bark and howl in uncontrollable terror, attracting any ghouls in earshot.
The most frequent role of the K-9 corp is acting as Sniffer Ks. Both dogs and their handlers travel with infantry groups, acting as early-warning detection systems and tracking units. When a sniffer dog smells or hears a zombie or other threat, it will immediately stop, turn toward the likely source of the target, stiffen, and give a low growl. The experienced handler will know immediately from the amount of tension in their partner and the intensity of the growl just how close the threat(s) are, an idea as to how many there are, and what direction they are headed, taking into account wind direction and terrain. The handler can even tell whether the target in question is a zombie or some different threat. The dogs are trained to growl, not to bark, as to not alert other Gs. They will then silently lead their handlers and the infantry right to the target. This turned out to be a life-saver for many grateful troops who would have walked blindly into the hands of an unseen ghoul hidden behind a rock, in a house, or even crawling in the high grass, unable to walk. Sniffers were usually smaller breeds, making them harder for a ghoul to catch and also so they could be used as remote recon units, since their small size allows them to go into tighter spaces. These dogs were given special remote communication packs, allowing the handlers to give commands to the animal from the base via radio (in spite of a lot of handlers disliking sending their dogs into a danger zone while they had to stay behind), and sending visual and audio information back to the command base.
Usually larger and stronger breed of dogs, Escorts have much of the same training as Sniffer Ks. However, the main reason these dogs are brought along is for the purpose of protecting the Sniffer Ks like bodyguards. During the Road to New York, the U.S. Army faced more adversaries than just the zombies. Sometimes, the new adversaries were far more dangerous. Quislings—wild animals that had managed to survive the undead—populated the terrain, along with feral humans, LMOEs, and rebels. The greatest threat to the Sniffer Ks, however, was undoubtedly (and ironically) feral dogs—former house pets that had either been abandoned or had escaped the zombie hordes, degenerating into vicious, territorial, and often starving wild packs. This was the reason for Escort Ks, as the breeds that comprised the Sniffer Ks were often too small to fend off the larger feral dogs. Breeds comprising the Escort Ks included hunting breeds, working breeds like sheepdogs and wolfhounds, and even breeds that had been especially popular in illegal dog fighting matches.
The Pied Piper of the K-9 Corps, Distraction Ks are used in the preparation stages of combat or rescue operations. Guided by their handler’s commands over the radio, the Distraction K will run into the infested target area, bark to get the attention of as many Gs as possible (possibly inducing a chain swarm), and constantly move to keep the zombies following them. This is useful for drawing the majority of a horde away from an area, either for a rescue or to buy time for an army to set up fortified position by drawing the swarm straight towards the front line. Distraction Ks are selected from breeds that are bred for speed, agility, and endurance, such as greyhounds, sled dogs (huskies), and herding dogs (border collies).
Considered the final step in Z training for K-9 units, This "live hazard obstacle course" was really a whole city that had been walled off, still infested with live zombies. The dogs, either accompanied by their handlers or guided via radio, had to complete various objectives within the city in order to clear the course, all while avoiding being caught by the undead.
A program that handlers tried to implement out of concern for their partners. It was basically a small radio activated explosive charge designed to spare the K-9 should it become injured in the field and unable to escape approaching Gs with no hope of rescue. The charge was intended to spare the dog the agony of being ripped apart and eaten alive. K Corps handlers were not so much incensed for being unable to get approval for these, but for that the military almost considered the far more traumatic Fragmutts program.
An elaboration on the mercy charges idea, the Fragmutts program was designed to turn dogs into potential suicide bombers by attaching several pounds of plastic explosives—enough to at least take out several Gs—with it. This idea hearkens back to WWII, where the Soviet Union started equipping dogs with stick-trigger explosives and training them to run under German tanks. Anger from many K-9 handlers combined with the Eckhart incident derailed the Fragmutts program from being implemented.
The Eckhart Incident
An army incident during the Road to New York involving female K-9 Handler Sergeant Eckhart. Eckhart's partner had been out during reconnaissance, and, while fleeing from several zombies, had fallen into a ditch, resulting in it becoming incapacitated with several ghouls in hot pursuit. Eckhart immediately grabbed her SIR and attempted to retrieve her partner, but her captain stopped her, believing that saving the dog was hopeless. In response, Eckhart shot and killed her captain before being detained by the M.P.'s. Her dog did not survive.
The sergeant was publicly hanged as an example, but the incident sparked a massive reform of the K program. The Fragmutts program was immediately shelved; the dogs were now seen as important as their handlers, and handlers were now allowed to go after their partners no matter how hopeless the situation. Studies have shown that handlers who had lost their partners had extremely high depression and suicide rates, and it was deemed better to risk losing both members of the team then to jeopardize morale with the prospect of more suicides.
Essentially large farms sponsored by government funding, the kennels are where retired veteran K-9 units are usually sent to live out their days in peace and comfort as reward for their invaluable services. Not all were sent to kennels, as a number of discharged handlers chose to adopt their former partners. By the time of Max Brooks's interview, very few kennels were still in service, due to the rather short life span that dogs have compared to humans.