of the Nazi Talking Dogs!
Hitler! Did the Nazis really intend to create an army of
talking dogs? (Copyright Lee Krystek,
At least one of them, according to reports, when
asked "Who is Adolf Hitler?" would reply "'Mein Führer!"
Even so, were the Nazis, as some accounts claimed,
really building an army of intelligent, talking dogs to defend
the Third Reich? Where did this story come from and how much of
it is actually true?
The legend of the talking Nazi attack dogs isn't
the only strange tale to surface after World War II. Various rumors
have appeared over the years suggesting the Nazis engaged in some
outlandish weapons research creating some unbelievably advanced
technology. There was a report, for example, that the Germans
had built flying saucers capable of
supersonic flight. Another rumor tells us that they had a secret
underground base in the Antarctic. A different account claims
that they actually invented the atom bomb
and tested it long before the Allies created this weapon of mass
destruction. (Part of the rumor was that after the German surrender
the United States captured two of the devices and used them on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
Many of these tall tales do have a seed of truth
in them, however. The Germans did design some disc-shaped aircraft,
though none could fly faster than sound. They did have an atomic
research program, but they never put the resources into it needed
to successfully make an A- bomb.
And of course they did actually build some advanced
weapons that shocked their enemies: supersonic rockets that would
drop soundlessly on London, automated cruise missiles that could
fly the English Channel, and jet fighters that could zoom rings
around Allied aircraft. So why not intelligent, talking attack
with one of his two dogs.
The story starts a decade before the war. In 1930
the Hundesprechschule Asra was founded by Margarethe Schmidt
in a large house just outside the town of Leutenberg, Gemany.
The name means "Asra talking school for dogs." Asra herself was
a very smart Great Dane that was the mother of five of the six
dogs in the school. (Apparently at one point there was also a
cat on the roster, too). The Hundesprechschule wasn't as
much of a school, as it was a trained animal show. Schmidt and
her mother took the dogs around to different venues where they
would perform. According to one child who saw the show in 1944,
the animals could tell the time, describe people and correct misspellings.
Though the dogs attempted to vocalize human words, they were apparently
more successful with communicating by using a coded system of
barks or ringing an electric bell a number of times to get their
The school provided Schmidt and her mother with
some much-needed income. According to Max Müller, a veterinarian
who had visited the school in 1942, Schmidt had contacted Hitler
about using her dogs to entertain members of the German Army and
he had accepted the offer. It isn't clear, however, if any of
these performances actually took place. We do know that Hitler
was a dog lover (he had two German shepherds - Bondi and Bella)
and it was a core Nazi belief that there should be a strong bond
between man and nature.
and Animal Protection
In fact, one of the odder quirks of the Nazi regime
was its tough animal protection policies. As soon as the party
came into power in 1933, it passed a law so that mistreating your
pet could get you two years in the slammer. They also banned the
forced feeding of ducks to produce foie gras (something the French
still struggling over). Restrictions were likewise put into place
so that any animals slaughtered for food were required to be put
to death humanely. (Apparently the Third Reich was particularly
concerned about the fate of lobsters in some of Berlin's finer
Hitler himself was pictured to the German public
as an avid animal lover. He didn't think much of hunting (which
he termed to be "murder") and was rumored to be an off again,
on again, vegetarian.
All this, of course, came from a group of people
that during WW II would order the demise of at least six million
human beings in death camps. The Nazis seemed much more concerned
with the welfare of pets than people.
an Airedale terrier that dabbled in mathematics, theology
The German interest in animal intelligence goes
back long before the Nazis, however. In the early 1900's, Don
the Speaking Dog became a sensation in the small German town of
Theerhutte. In 1905, at the tender age of six months, Don was
apparently begging for scraps under the family dinner table when
he was heard to say "Haben! Haben!" (which in German is "Want!
Want!"). He soon expanded his vocabulary to include "kuchen" (cakes
- a favorite food) and "ja" for yes and "nein" for no. It was
said that he could even put together rudimentary sentences like
"Hunger, want cakes." According to a newspaper article the dog
had nice clear diction. "The tone was not a bark or growl, but
distinct speech," it said. Don made quite a bit of money for his
master by performing in different venues around the area.
Another dog that influenced German thinking on animal
intelligence was Rolf, an Airedale terrier. Paula Moekel of Mannheim
owned the animal and she claimed that he could communicate by
tapping out letters with his paws. He was even smart enough to
assign the highest number of taps to the least used letters. According
to Moekel, Rolf was into poetry, mathematics, theology and philosophy.
He even communicated in languages other than German.
She also claimed that the dog had a sense of humor
and once asked a visiting noblewoman if she could wag her tail.
Perhaps what was most endearing to the German public, however,
was that Rolf said he wanted to join the army because he hated
One of the people impressed by these canine geniuses
was Karl Krall. Krall was an eccentric jeweler who founded a research
institute outside Munich in the early 1900's to study the intelligence
of animals. There they conducted various experiments including
one on the possibility of telepathy between humans and poodles.
( A surviving photo shows both man and beast with their head inside
steel helmets - apparently an attempt to measure the mental radiation
between the two minds) Krall also believed that horses could show
great intelligence and owned one named Muhamed that supposedly
could calculate the cubed roots of numbers.
Kall (on the far right) tries to measure the telepathic
energy traveling between man and poodle.
But did all this interest in animal intelligence
actually turn into a real Nazi funded program to develop smart
dogs for military purposes?
Book Revives Interest
In 2011, Jan Bondeson, a Swedish-born rheumatologist,
scientist and author, wrote a book called Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet
of Canine Curiosities. In it Bondeson singled out the Hundesprechschule
Asra as an example of Nazi-sponsored research into canine/human
communications. "Why, in a Germany where all money went toward
the war effort, could such bizarre projects go ahead, if not supported
by the Nazi regime?" he asked. Bondeson, based on his research,
believed that Hitler had ordered the SS to investigate the possibility
of the training of the animals. He thought that they were probably
intended to work with the SS or be used as guard dogs in concentration
However, relatives of the Hundesprechschule's headmistress
deny that she received support from the government. According
to her nephew, Schmidt complained about difficulty in getting
food for her dogs during the war because she was told she was
not doing any "scientifically notable" training.
Even Bondeson admits that if there was any attempt
to make a super dog for the war effort, nothing came of it. He
stated that despite much effort "there is no evidence it [the
work] ever actually came to fruition and that the SS were walking
around with talking dogs."
Why weren't the Nazis able to get a talking canine
corps out of these mutts? Well, first of all, their vocal mechanisms
weren't really optimal for producing human speech, but the more
important factor was that their high-intelligence was simply an
illusion. An instance of overly-eager animals trying to please
Hans performs for an audience.
The most obvious example of this kind of thing was
the case of Clever Hans. Hans was a horse owned by Wilhelm von
Osten, an amateur horse trainer, who lived in Germany before the
war. Von Osten claimed the stallion was smart enough to count,
do math and other intellectual tasks. The horse and von Osten
traveled around giving shows and demonstrations. A typical question
von Osten would ask Hans might be "what is three times three?"
The horse would then use his hoof to tap out the number nine.
Psychologist Oskar Pfungst carefully observed the
horse and trainer in action and realized that von Osten was making
subtle changes to his posture as Hans reached the number of taps
that would be the correct answer. Though von Osten was unaware
of what he was doing, the horse could sense his expectation as
he tapped the number out, and then his release of tension when
the correct value had been reached. Pfungst was able to prove
this by having von Osten ask questions to which he himself did
not know the correct answer. In these situations it was likely
that the horse would get it wrong.
Pfungst also took a look at Don the Speaking Dog.
With his phonograph, Pfungst recorded the animal supposedly talking
, then played it back for listeners who were not at the live performance.
They could not make out what the dog was saying. Without the power
of suggestion provided by the context of the show, the dog's noises
were just growls and woofs.
Nazi scientists might have believed differently,
however. As Bondeson put it in an interview with the BBC, "I'm
sure that the Nazi generation of animal psychologists genuinely
thought they'd tapped into a hidden innate intelligence within
many animals. . . . It's very easy but entirely wrong to mock
their findings, as the film footage appears extremely compelling.
Dogs in particular have an innate need to please their pack leader,
and will go to almost any lengths to achieve this…"
The limits of animal intelligence and their ability
to use language are issues still hotly debated by scientists even
today. Many researchers have tried to teach sign language to chimps
and gorillas with some success, but critics argue that while the
animals may understand the meaning of the signs at some basic
level, they are unable to actually employ them as a language with
proper syntax. They maintain that what is being seen is simply
conditioning similar to what Clever Hans was doing back at the
beginning of the 20th century. Animal researchers might disagree
with this, but even the most optimistic of them wouldn't contend
that any animal can figure cubed roots or ponder philosophy.
So it appears that even if the Nazi scientists had
tried to create an army of talking dogs, their efforts were in
vain. A battalion of German talking dogs was just one more legend
from the Nazi lore of World War II.
A Partial Bibliography
Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine
Curiosities by Jan Bondeson, Cornell University Press 2011.
The School to Teach Nazi War
Dogs to Speak by Stanley Coren, Ph.D, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201105/the-school-teach-nazi-war-dogs-speak
Clever Hans phenomenon,
The Skeptics Dictionary, http://skepdic.com/cleverhans.html Author
Jan Bondeson frowns on 'Nazi
superdog' claims, BBC Mobile, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-13568270
2012 Lee Krystek. All Rights Reserved.