Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Afghan dogs (II): Back when it was fun

John Stuart Blackton, who did two long tours in Afghanistan  (’72-’76 and ’89-’94) was spurred by yesterday’s discussion of Afghan dogs to send in this memory of dog matches — more wrestling than fighting — back then: In the winter time, when there is not much goat/sheep herding to do, Afghans from villages in a ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

John Stuart Blackton, who did two long tours in Afghanistan  ('72-'76 and '89-'94) was spurred by yesterday's discussion of Afghan dogs to send in this memory of dog matches -- more wrestling than fighting -- back then:

John Stuart Blackton, who did two long tours in Afghanistan  (’72-’76 and ’89-’94) was spurred by yesterday’s discussion of Afghan dogs to send in this memory of dog matches — more wrestling than fighting — back then:

In the winter time, when there is not much goat/sheep herding to do, Afghans from villages in a wide radius (maybe 25 miles) gather in a big snowfield with their dogs who have been specially trained by them for this sport.

The sport is akin to Portuguese bull fighting (no blood) and resembles wrestling. Two  big dogs (mostly mastiff-sized, various breeds) are released  in a circle of snow surrounded by hundreds of Afghan male spectators (many of them betting).

They circle each other for a minute or more looking for a moment of advantage. Then one dog move in fast and tries to flip the other on his back.  If both shoulders touch the snow when a dog is on his back, the fight is won.

Like wrestling, the art in leverage, timing and speed.  If, as occasionally happens, one dog shifts from wrestling to truly biting and drawing blood, the owners rush in and put both hands on the flanks of their own dogs, who break off immediately.  The fight is called a draw and the next dogs come on.

No dogs die. Almost no dogs are injured (they are too valuable).  Much yelling and wagering takes place, and by 2 in the afternoon everyone starts the long hike back to his village — some with their honor enhanced by the audacity of their hounds and some with their honor diminished.

A wonderfully Afghan pastime!

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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