The Terrible History of the Spanish War Dog

20 views – Dogs are used as powerful weapons of war for at least the last 3,000 years. The Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Britons, and Romans are all known to possess used dogs in combat, or for scouts, sentries, trackers, or executioners.

But the Spanish conquistadors employed war dogs on a scale that had rarely been seen before, and with devastating effect.

Read more: Beautiful Large Coffin Found in Luxor Egypt

Christopher Columbus was the primary to use dogs as weapons within the New World. He released them upon the indigenous people of Hispaniola in 1493 and to disperse groups that came to prevent his landing in Jamaica in 1494.

But it had been the Battle of Vega in 1495 that awoke Columbus to the potential that dogs had as weapons against the inhabitants of this new land.

On March 27, 1495, Columbus and his brother Bartholomew marched inland on Hispaniola with 200 men, 20 horsemen, and 20 Spanish Mastiff dogs to do battle with the Arawak natives, who were opposing Spanish rule.

The forces were led by Spanish conquistador Alonso de Ojeda, who had learned the art of using war dogs in battles against the Moors of Granada. within the Pawprints of History: Dogs within the Course of Human Events, author Stanley Coren describes the scene:

“He gathered the dogs on the far right flank and waited until the battle had reached a high level of fury. He then released all twenty mastiffs, shouting “Tómalos!” (meaning “take them”). The angry dogs swept down on the native fighters during a raging phalanx, hurling themselves at the Indians’ naked bodies.

They grabbed their opponents by their bellies and throats. because the stunned Indians fell to the bottom, the dogs disemboweled them and ripped them to pieces. Spinning from one bloody victim to a different, the dogs tore through the native ranks.”

With each subsequent voyage to America, hundreds then thousands more dogs were brought over. the foremost popular breed was the mastiff, which could weigh up to 250 pounds and crush bones with its massive jaws.

Their sheer size and fierce look instilled terror among the native population. Famous conquistadors, like Balboa, Velasquez, Cortes, De Soto, Toledo, Coronado, and Pizarro, all used dogs as instruments of subjugation, execution, and as a sort of war of nerves.

But it had been Juan Ponce de León, a top military official within the colonial government of Hispaniola, who unleashed the fiercest warrior of all of them – Becerrillo.


Mastiff dogs were used as war weapons. (type / Adobe Stock )


Becerril: The ‘Bull’ That Was Trained To Kill

Becerril, a reputation meaning ‘Little Bull,’ was a brown-eyed, red pelted mastiff owned by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León but often entrusted to the care of conquistadors Captain Diego Guilarte de Salazar and Sancho de Aragón.

Read more: Askia’s Tomb: Revolt Leader to Powerful Songhai Emperor

Becerrillo’s origins are uncertain, but it’s believed he was born within the Americas within the kennels of Ponce de León. The earliest records of him date to 1511, but by then he was already described as sporting battle scars.

Ponce de León was the conqueror of Puerto Rico. After landing there in 1508, he filled his pockets with gold before convincing Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, to declare him governor of the island. He then began with men and dogs to subdue the native population and become rich.

17th-century Spanish engraving (colored) of Juan Ponce de León ( property right )

He trained his prized possession Becerrillo to become a strong weapon. The dog was taught to differentiate between the Spanish and also the natives, to look out and cut down runaway captives, and to kill in battle.

The 16th-century Spanish historian and chronicler, Bartolomé de las Casas, reported that Becerrillo “attacked his enemies with frenzied rage and defended his friends with great courage…,” adding that the indigenous people were “more scared of ten Spanish soldiers with Becerrillo than 100 by themselves.”

Becerril was so skilled at tracking down, killing, and terrorizing the natives, that he was worth 50 soldiers to Ponce in his campaign to subdue the Taíno people of Puerto Rico.

In 1512, Ponce de León’s luck would change. Diego Columbus became envious of the riches that Ponce de León was acquiring in Puerto Rico. Diego convinced the king to call him governor instead, officially usurping Ponce. Not able to abandoning of his pursuit of wealth, Ponce secured a grant to overcome an island named Bimini, that rumor had it had been filled with gold and treasures. He set sail in 1512, leaving Becerrillo under the care of Guilarte de Salazar and Sancho de Aragón.

Salazar was quick to utilize Becerrillo in battle. One night, Becerrillo alerted the conquistadors of a coup de main being launched by the natives. Salazar embarked on the action with the dog by his side, and in only half-hour, Becerrillo had savaged and killed 33 of the natives, leaving a battleground of bodies.



Becerrillo Shows Mercy

While Becerrillo had been trained to kill, one historical account, related in Coren’s Pawprints of History, tells a tale of mercy. The conquistadors were camped outside the settlement of Caparra in Puerto Rico expecting the arrival of the Spanish governor.

Trying to find something to amuse themselves, Salazar gave a folded piece of paper to an old woman, telling her to deliver it to the governor. because the woman began on her way, Salazar released Becerrillo commanding him to kill her.

Because the dog raced towards her, the lady dropped to her knees and was reported to possess called out “Please, my Lord Dog. I’m on my way to take this letter to Christians. I beg you, my Lord Dog, please don’t hurt me.”

Becerril sniffed the lady then, disobeying his master’s orders, turned and walked away. When the governor was told what had occurred, he released the old woman and forbade any longer terrorizing of the locals, declaring “I won’t allow the compassion and clemency of a dog to overshadow those of a true Christian.”



The campaign of terror committed through Becerrillo came to an end one morning in 1514 when indigenous Caribs from the island of Vieques captured Sancho de Aragón. according to Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés in his 1535 Historia, the dog pursued the attackers who had begun in dugout canoes, by making his way through the water. Becerril became a simple target and was hit by a volley of arrows. Spanish soldiers cauterized his wounds, but he died shortly afterward.

He was given a secret burial and, according to Oviedo, was mourned quite their fallen comrades.

Read more:

Like every soldier and each dog loyal to his master, Becerrillo was dutiful and allegiant until the very end. He may have killed many, but it had been his masters that were truth killers.

Gravatar Image
I am the owner of this site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *