I am Kaine!! God king of the Wraith-men exiles. I am busy defending against the Sun Empire's holy war, led by the usurpers own son Leon the Holy Fury. The last battle was... a bit sporting, Leon charged through my ranks in hopes of cutting me down. We exchange blows, he made me lightly bleed I took his eye; it seems I was somehow on the worse side of the blow (my blood has giving hope to his men, they now think I can be killed) but not all the news is bad. My brother Carrion the Black Hand has not only successfully beaten The Golden Fleet and burned White Hearth to the ground, but added most of the fleets vessels to his own ranks (with the help of some War Whales link down below)

My nephew Ivan thinks that my own army is also lacking in War-beasts so he has reinforced me with the Vargr clan and their war-hounds. I have not lead dogs into war before or how to use them effectively. so I will now hold a war counsel.

Now my advisers I ask you: What would be the best way to use these War-Hounds in the coming battle?


The Vargr clan only have 60 fighters/handlers but have over 250 war-hounds. I have to give them some of the dead just to feed them; the Skin Takers are not too pleased with this.

The War-Hounds numbers consist of only medieval era dog breeds (huskies and Mastiffs ect)

The Vargr men themselves are master bowmen and the art of stealth but not the best in close combat (they make up for that with their War-Hounds). They control the dogs with whistles and if need be horns, they can pull of advanced formations with the dogs even at a distance.

To avoid friendly fire the Vargr men ask all my men to wear a certain herb on them, so the dogs can tell friend from foe (would love to know how you would avoid this in real life).

The War-Hounds have two sets of armour thanks to the smiths of Iron Port, a leather one and a iron-plate one use them well to fit our needs

The enemy army has made camp in an open field just outside of the woods they outnumber us three to one, but only the Holy Orders are elite, most are regular soldiers. The solders fear us... a lot; the Paladins on the other hand will fight to the death and may rally the troops

I will just point out that there is no magic involved.

The tech level is high medieval 1400 century, steel plates are a thing but gun powder is not on the scene...yet

For more info about Kaine see also:War Whales use in Naval Warfare and Why Would an Enemy Army Retreat if they Will Die Anyway

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    $\begingroup$ That's usually "let slip the dogs of war". $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Do we know of the enemy's camp, Lord Kaine? Where it is, and how many? $\endgroup$
    – Chris M.
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously, ask the Vargrs, since they're the ones with the war hounds... $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I read the question as, how do you best tactically use war dogs in medieval combat, which in my opinion would be on topic. Creed can you clarify your intent? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash I think the OP was mixing up "Release the hounds" with "Let slip the dogs of war". (Although there's also "Release the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you", but unfortunately that one doesn't seem to be relevant to this question.) $\endgroup$
    – abarnert
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:52

5 Answers 5


Attack the enemy supply lines: Dogs will not do much against organized units, but an ambush executed by hounds, the Vagr and our own troops will deal with that problem. The dogs should attempt to get in the middle of the enemy soldiers, the Vagr should lay down supporting fire and weaken the line for the war dogs and our slower troops can charge the disorganized enemy lines to finsh them off. The dogs could also target horse cavalry units with greater efficiency than infantry could.

Line breakers/disruptors Mayhaps we could use the dogs in combination with skirmishers to create gaps into the enemy main battleline. Even if only small ones as one section moving up slower than another. Skirmishers could throw javelins and dogs could harass the lesser armored troops. Dogs could easily retreat back behind our own lines if need be.

Hunting enemy scouts/Sentry duty Not a glorious part of battle, but denying our enemy intelligence could greatly increase our army's odds of succes. Similary preventing enemy raids will help the moral of our troops.

Sneak attack If our dogs somehow manage to find a way into the enemy camp they could cause a lot of ruckus. To increase their vandalizing efforts we could equip them with torches. Dogs are faster and smaller than humans. Let's see how easy disorganized defenders can prevent our dogs from setting aflame their camp.

  • $\begingroup$ Equip dogs with torches? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn If the dogs can be taught to hold flaming torches instead of ordinary sticks in their mouths and get taught to go up to tents to set them ablaze they could cause a lot of damage. Think of that scene in the Lion king 2 with Vitani and Nuka setting fire to the steppe. Hard to pull off, but could be very rewarding. Alternatively they could be given sticks drenched in oil and taught to light them in the enemy camp using enemy campfires. These dogs might be smart enough to pull it off. I took some liberty with their intelligence with that one. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ Looks like you beat me to it, this is pretty much what I was thinking, feel free to scavenge anything from my answer, I will delete it in a little bit. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ "Skirmishers could throw javelins and dogs…" This was a great image until the rest of the sentence retroactively changed the parsing. Anyway, good answer, but you might want to make a bigger point out of sentry duty, given that it's something armies have actually used dogs for throughout much of history—even modern military bases sometimes have guard dogs. $\endgroup$
    – abarnert
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't watch LK2. Dogs carrying lit torches is 15 steps beyond suspension of disbelief. Brains have nothing to do with it. It's their sensitive noses that don't like it. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 18:56

If it please you my lord, I would send these masters of stealth and beast to raid the enemy camps in the night. The dogs would do well to attack the foe in their sleep, frightening their cavalry and reducing their number. Once the element of surprise is lost, they may withdraw into the woods, hopefully none the worse for the raid. With their men sleep-deprived and demoralized by the vicious attack, we should best them easily in the field.

I do not know if this would be too dishonorable to contemplate, but is the Usurper worthy of honorable combat?

  • $\begingroup$ Sadly, though, according to an OP comment, they're hunting dogs, not war hounds. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's unfortunate. Although raiding might be closer to hunting than full-on combat, provided the dogs are actually doing the hunting and not flushing out prey. $\endgroup$
    – Chris M.
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Hunting dogs, though, are trained not to kill. Think pointers, retrievers and -- as you mentioned -- flushers. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ That's true. Still, they might be able to scare or wound the horses (if there are any). That would cause enough pandemonium to keep the men from getting a good night's rest. Heck, the Vargr could just rain arrows into the chaos from the woods after the dogs run through and do plenty of damage. $\endgroup$
    – Chris M.
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ they did hunt humans so its nothing new to them its feral as hell where the Vargrs come from. and you have never heard of bear/boar hunting look at the dogs they use their far from your rat terriers (also none of the breeds you talk about where around then) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:05

My lord, if you allow a word, 250 war hounds are not gonna survive long in a battlefield. Yes, they are terrifying, and yes, I'm sure those Vagr have trained them to be obedient and letal, but how do they fare against steel? Can their teeth pierce mail? Are they able enough to jump at the enemy's throath, while they swing swords at them? And when they die, how long does it take for a new dog to be trained and fill in the ranks?

As other generals of your army suggested, I'd keep the dog for suprise attacks and night raids. Also, they could be used to hunt down parties who detach from the main body of the enemy army, or carry swift pokes on the sides.

But my twist of the matter is this: use those dogs for psychological warfare.

Those regular soldiers that you mentioned interest me. The paladins won't be easily scared, but screw those - the main body of the enemy forces will be made by soldiers, yes, but not all soldiers by profession or vow. Some will be peasants, some will be farmers, all will be longing from home in some place far from the gruesome fingers of war.

Let the dog strike at night, then make them howl, or bark, as angrily as they can. After all, few things stroke fear in the heart of men like unseen beasts howling in the dark. Get a few nights of this, and when the final day of the field battle come, have a part of your war dogs (let's say, 100) attack the rear of the soldiers.

The others should be left as reserve, some place where they cannot be seen, but they can be heard.

If the attack-body of dogs strikes fast enough, the enemy won't be able to kill most of it, and any dogs that fall can be replaced by a new, eager one from the reserve. Meanwhile, the reserve should continue making as much noise as possible. The enemy soldiers will fight constantly with their ears filled of the war hounds angry barking. To those poor fellows, it will seem that those dogs are being vomited by the seven hells themselves.

  • $\begingroup$ So you run from the dogs. Into a room. Out the back door. Shut both doors. Wait a week. Begin to feed the now starving dogs, who your enemy has thoughtfully trained, and of course will know their way back home. They'll also recognize people from home if said people are trying to spy on you. The new guy down the block? If the dogs love him, kill him, he's a spy. See, the problem is that people know how to deal with dogs. They are not wolves, or dingoes. Just trained dogs. Starve and feed and pet and co-opt. There is no place where dogs drove humans away on earth. A poor weapon against us. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 19:24

I usually skip questions like this after a couple of paragraphs, but I read yours all the way through. Very creative. I doff my spangenhelm to you.

Someone mentioned that these are hunting dogs, but I don't see that in your description. (As pointed out, I see that now in one of the rolled-up comments. These are some pretty well-trained hunting dogs! Me wonders what they're hunting to require this level of training...)

I also use war dogs in my milieus as far back as first edition AD&D and, contrary to what many of the other answers have indicated, I have found them to be very effective. They're the cheapest warriors you can hire and the easiest to train! And if your PCs and NPCs handle them properly you won't lose many of them.

Attack dogs are both a terror weapon, and an extra attack for your player or NPC. As a terror weapon, while they tend to be dispatched/vanquished fairly easily one-on-one, their effective armour class makes them difficult to get in the hit you need to actually do damage. They don't do a lot of damage on their own, but they latch on or can "knock prone" fairly easily.

One-on-one they're not good. If you send in your dog against a defending PC and just stand back to watch you'll likely lose the dog. Send in the dog then get in there yourself! When the dog latches on to your opponent he will take a dex penalty even if he isn't knocked to the ground, then you get in there and give your opponent something else to think about. PCs usually yell "Run Away!" under an organized/experienced dog attack.

An opponent under your dog attack must contend with the dog and your attack. Not only are you getting an attack against him every round, but so is your dog. The beauty about this is that there is no logical strategy to deal with it! If he attacks you then he suffers a dex penalty because of the dog. If he attacks the dog he still has to absorb your attack -- and you're probably going to hit him due to the effects of the dog attack! I've had experienced players literally panic under a dog attack. They don't know what to do.

You say that you're outnumbered, but a well-run attack using dogs with a little luck could force a morale check in your opponents.

In my worlds it also turns out that any war dogs in the group are usually "handled" by one character who is usually a proficient combat character, although my player groups have hired non-combatant war dog-handlers specifically for their support. That's not how I had envisioned it, but that's just the way it turned out. Your Vargr group seems to be a cross between the two. Clearly the dogs and handlers will have to enter combat as ancillary troops -- they go in supporting your main force: one or two dogs attack an opponent which is then engaged by one of your primary combat troops.

Dogs have two traits which affect combat: loyalty and training. Dogs can be a bit of a wild-card during combat, sometimes biting their owner accidentally, but they will tend attack the target to which they've been assigned and will tend to stay on that target even when things get hairy. In fact, even after you've killed your opponent the dog will tend to continue to attack the body until called off.

Loyalty can actually be a bit of a problem. If you own and have actually trained the dog, that dog will tend to switch his attention from what he is attacking to whatever it is you're attacking! You can let the dog go then run into another room to do combat with something else, but if the dog sees you fighting in another direction he tends to switch his focus to the target you've engaged. Because of his loyalty, you can't trust the dog to stay on a target which is different from yours.

I would suggest that you avoid plate on a dog. Yes the dog is weak, but he already has a pretty good armour class by virtue of size and speed. We've used leather, ring, and occasionally scale, but I don't believe plate is realistically workable. He loses too much dexterity, his attacks become far less effective, and he tires too quickly. (Not to mention that you're carrying around a set of plate for your dog!)

Another suggestion: we know that dogs have been used for martial purposes way back through even pre-history. They tend to take on specific roles: combat, sentry, runner. A runner will carry communications but will not fight. A sentry or "guard dog" is great at watching an area, but will not carry communications reliably and is also generally not as good in battle. Dogs used in battle are far more aggressive than sentry dogs, but they can still be used in that role. I cobble up an intelligence roll for dogs to allow them to learn multiple roles, but multirole dogs are a bit of a rarity -- you can't have a whole lot of Hooches, Jerry Lees, and Lassies running around all over the place! Most of them are like Marley, or at best Beethoven! [;D

So, my suggestion is that while the Vargr seem to be handling about 4 dogs each, some of those will be sentry-role dogs which will be used to patrol the perimeter. Some very few (1 in 10 or whatever) will be strictly for communication, or you may want to leave that level of complication out of the mix altogether for now.

Oh -- another suggestion! I don't think the herb is really necessary. Unless the dog is actually attacked from another direction the dog tends to stay on his target when loosed, even when something else gets in the way. I know what you're thinking, but if you just let these dogs loose on the battlefield today you might just as well send the Vargr home tomorrow because there won't be any dogs left for them to handle. Pair the Vargr up with one (or even four!) of your regular combat troops and send them out onto the battlefield (or bushwack or whatever) in teams. I mean, the handler and his dogs are already a team, so adding an extra pair of elbows shouldn't complicate things that much.

Those are my thoughts and experiences and I hope you find them useful. Good luck with it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One of the qestioner's comments says, "the Vargrs have only used them for hunting not full scale warfare". $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ I see that now in one of the rolled-up comments. Thanks. Also: ridiculous. [:) "We've just showed up with 250 dogs which we have trained to respond to our whistles and which can be controlled through advanced formations. We only use them for hunting..." Sire, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that our enemy is feasting on dog tonight! The bad news... $\endgroup$
    – Ian Moote
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ That's why I voted down the question. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn It seems you are hung up on the "hunting dogs turned to a combat role" you do you man. but Hunting dogs that are used for bear/boar hunting could kill a person very easily. The Vargr use the dogs mostly for hunting. But where they live other clans fight each other often so they use the dogs to attack enemies or to execute the guilty so they have been used to kill people before, just not on a large scale. if it was just The Vargr I was using as solders would you say the same thing? if they were not solders before they are now, same goes for the dogs i just want to know how to use them $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ "It seems you are hung up on the "hunting dogs turned to a combat role". Being hung up on what the questioner writes a good thing. "if it was just The Vargr I was using as solders would you say the same thing?" Dogs are not humans. More importantly, humans need to be trained to fight coherently, or they get slaughtered. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:52

I think the most effective time to release the hounds is when you're assaulting a fortress and you've just broken an opening in the doors or walls, or you've just let down the ramp of your siege tower onto the walls.

In midieval warfare, bottlenecks such as these were chaotic and bloody, but had to be pushed through. Usually the most heavily armored and craziest men were chosen to be the first through the hole (charging the breach). But your dogs would have several advantages.

While men have to crash through the breach, as in the picture, the dogs could nimbly dart through small gaps between the defenders (even through their legs!) and then come around from behind. Once through they can cause chaos. And they could sprint through the breach fast enough that you could pour many of them in quickly. While the defenders have the dogs either nipping at their ankles or tackling and mauling them, you can send men through the breach to reinforce.

Even if the dogs can't kill the defenders, if they can just distract them by biting their ankles, they'll give enough time for a significant party of attackers to get through the choke-point and form up on the inside.

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