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The Knight variant of the Noble background grants three retainers — one of whom is a squire (PHB 136):

One of your commoner retainers is replaced by a noble who serves as your squire, aiding you in exchange for training on his or her own path to knighthood.

The knight is training the squire for combat, but the squire is a noncombatant. They tell you which stats to use (the noble, not the squire for some reason), I'm assuming that is for self-defense situations where the squire is cornered and has no choice but to fight. Leaving direct combat by the squire aside:

You can buy a mastiff, which can be trained as a guard dog or attack dog (I can't recall if it says hunting or attack, but a dog can certainly be trained to defend its master).

Can the knight give the leash to his squire and let him be in charge of controlling the dog?

Specifically to order the dog to protect its master (basically ordering it to stand next to the knight and attack anyone who attacks the knight or the dog itself). I'm assuming here the squire is NOT shouting from a tree top "attack that one, now that one," etc. — he just gives the "go" and "stop" orders at the beginning/end of combat.

Please note, I don't consider "nothing allows this" to be a valid answer if "nothing forbids this," is equally true. If it's a case-by-case, DM-by-DM decision, that's fine.

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Yes, but it probably isn't as effective as you might think

Giving the leash to the squire (supposing the dog is loyal to them as well) means that the squire can well give orders to it, to the best of their ability. But the squire is an NPC, loyal to the knight but not directly controlled by the player. So without the knight taking the time to give orders to the squire to be passed along to the dog, it's pretty much up to the DM to play that part.

Depending on the DM and the circumstances, the squire may still be shy of combat and hide away; the dog will be useful to guard both the squire and the knight/group's equipment in the fight. Maybe the squire and dog would be OK fighting against normal opponents but run away from monsters, etc.

Also bear in mind that a dog trained for hunting is different from a dog trained for guard duty is different from an attack dog. Hunting dogs will usually not go after something that could hurt them, guard dogs will stop an intruder or attacker violating "their" territory, but training a dog to pursue and fight an active antagonist is different, and dogs with that kind of training are hard to come by.

House rule possibilities

The core rulebooks don't have rules for exactly how involved a companion animal like this can get in combat, outside of a beast master ranger's class features. If a DM did want to allow something like this and the players really wanted to take advantage of it, it would be a good idea to set some standard ground rules for what the animal is capable of; the temptation is going to be there (in some players) to see this as a set of free extra actions in combat. Every additional attack in a round is a pretty big advantage, so you have to be careful.

Ideally, the effect of this should be somewhere between the effectiveness of fighting while mounted (PHB p. 198) and the ranger's class feature (PHB p. 93). Note that even the Ranger, whose major class feature is dedicated to fighting alongside an animal companion, still has to use their action (or one of their attacks per round, later on) to command their animal to attack or aid, so giving much more leeway than that to a dog that's essentially a piece of equipment can be seen as giving that class short shrift.

Another option might be for the DM to allow the dog to fully take part in combat but to consider it an allied NPC/hireling/henchman...not sure how the players would feel giving the dog a cut of their experience points, but that's a way to allow it free rein.

But this is far into the realm of rulings, not rules, so it's certainly going to vary from table to table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity, why is an attack dog that hard to come by? In a fantasy world, it would seem to be a pretty common thing. The PHB even has them listed as mounts, which would seem to require even more training than attack, since it's not based on a natural behavior. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 3 '16 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hard_er_ to come by than a dog trained for hunting or guard duty. How objectively hard to come by is a setting consideration. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jun 3 '16 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ True, the poster didn't indicate this would be a problem, but it bears mentioning. You'll note the first word in my answer is "yes." \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jun 3 '16 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also my experience that "buy a dog" is often a tactic for getting around the fact that you only play one character in combat, in a lot of games, so I wanted to include something in my answer that accounted for that in case someone came across this with something similar in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jun 3 '16 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Edited my answer to include a starting point for DMs looking to house rule something like this into existence; the important pieces are 1. don't add too much utility to the players' side of the equation and 2. don't eat the Beast Master's lunch. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jun 3 '16 at 20:34
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This does of course, fall outside the realm of RAW, and into the land of interpretation. As such, I'm finding it hard to see the conflict. Giving orders to the dog and having it fight is not combat, any more than summoning a police officer. It's little different than holding the horse while the knight goes out to fight on foot. Both are helping the knight to fight, without themselves fighting.

So, Yes. The squire can hold the leash and let slip the dog of war.

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There are two parts to this question. One is about whether you can buy a mastiff and have it fight for you; the other is about whether a squire can help with this somehow.

Can you buy a mastiff and have it fight for you?

The rules say that you can buy a mastiff. (PH p157) I haven't been able to find any rules about training a mastiff or getting it to fight for you in combat. You can use the Animal Handling skill to "calm down a domesticated animal" or "prevent it from being spooked" (p178) but there aren't any rules for using that skill to persuade an animal to attack.

Most of the things you're fighting will do way more than 5 damage on a hit, which means they can kill your dog easily if they decide they want to. Your dog knows this, so persuading it to fight next to you will likely be very difficult. It's unlikely that you can pay someone else to train your dog for you; you need a personal bond with your dog that will make it willing to risk its life for you, and a trainer can't forge that bond for you. You'd have to talk to your DM about the details, but it would likely take a lot of time and a high roll on the Animal Handling skill.

Does your mastiff need to be given orders, and if so, can your squire do that for you?

Once you've convinced a dog to risk its life for you in battle, it seems like teaching your dog to follow you around and attack the things you attack should be a much easier task. Your dog wants to stay close to you anyway, and if you get in combat, your dog can figure that out without a direct order.

The rules for your retainers are that they "do not fight for you" and "will not follow you into obviously dangerous areas (such as dungeons)". It's a bit ambiguous whether these rules apply to your squire, but if your squire isn't willing to fight for you then he's probably not willing to follow you into dangerous areas either. So most of the time you get in combat, your squire won't be physically present at all. (And if you're not in an obviously dangerous area, your squire probably doesn't have your attack dog ready either.)

Should your DM let you do this?

In most D&D adventures, people -- even adventurers -- don't walk around with attack dogs. This suggests that there's probably something about having an attack dog that makes it not worth the effort for most people to do. If your DM tells you how hard it is to get an attack dog, and the cleric looks over and says: "Wait, it just costs 25gp for a dog, and it can deal damage in combat or soak up an incoming attack? I've got 250gp right here, and my wisdom gives me a great Animal Handling skill -- I'll take ten of them!", then something has gone wrong with the DM's worldbuilding.

Likewise, if the DM restricts dogs to one per person, and then every character in the party decides it would be a good idea to buy a dog, then something has gone wrong. If everyone wants to buy a dog, but they don't because having a dog is your character's thing and they don't want to be a bunch of copycats -- that is still a problem.

Whatever terms your DM gives you, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time or skills or money on the dog, enough that it wouldn't be worth the effort for most adventurers.

My suggestion would be that maybe taking care of a dog eats up a lot of downtime, and most characters don't want to spend the effort. But one of your retainers could be a houndmaster, whose job is to feed and entertain and care for your dogs when you're not using them. (In much the same manner that a groom cares for your horse when you're not using that.)

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Yes, this all seems perfectly fine.

However:

Your retainers are commoners who can perform mundane tasks for you, but they do not fight for you, will not follow you into obviously dangerous areas (such as dungeons), and will leave if they are frequently endangered or abused.

The squire is still a retainer and will not willing bring the dog into dangerous areas and will leave if you keep making him do so. The dog in a non-dangerous area is not going to be much use in combat.

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