Sniffing their way to glory

Do you know that with security officials, dogs also play an important role in the overall security of the airports? Dogs & Pups recently visited one such training centre.

Airports are vulnerable places and their security is prime consideration. The security force and custom authority also relies on dogs for sniffing out explosives and narcotics.

Dogs & Pups recently met Dr. (Maj.) T V Narayanan, Deputy Commissioner of Security, Bomb Detection & Disposal Squad (BDDS), Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and G R Yadav , Sub Inspector, In-charge of Dog Squad team at the Delhi airport. They gave an insight into the working of these special canines.

Dr. Narayanan informed–“The most important breed for us is the Labrador, though other breeds are also considered. Apart from Labrador, we also take Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel and the German Shepherd. Each pup for the Dog Squad is carefully examined. We adopt the pups from reputable breeders in Delhi. We have a special committee that checks their respective parentage and certifications. We only take dogs who are registered under the Kennel Club of India, Chennai.”

Once the pup is selected, he undergoes tremendous training, which is divided into two parts: the basic obedience training and the special training. The Dog Squad team does not train the pup until he attains 6 months of age. “The pup is a baby at that point of time and needs complete care and love. Excessive training for a pup who is under 6 months of age, can make him dull instead of being active,” said Dr. Narayanan. The duration of obedience training is 3 months (12 weeks), it covers basic commands such as sit, get up, come, go, down, heel, walk etc. “We train our dogs on Hindi commands, some of which include bolo, dhundho, utho, betho etc,” informed Yadav. They are given short names and are trained on short commands so that they do not get confused. Obstacle training is also given at this stage.

Each dog is then given one programme. “There are different types of training given to them according to their capabilities. We analyse their nature. Some sniff at ground site more, so we consider them for explosive, tracking or mine detection. We enhance their skill by training. Some are more capable for guarding, so we train them accordingly,” said Yadav.

After basic training, they are analysed for explosive detection. This specialised training is for 6 months. This training is imparted at different places, weather and situations. “We train them under all situations, so that at the time of duty, the dog remains focused and detects the explosive. They are capable of detecting nanogram level of explosives and can smell 40 times better than humans. This aspect makes them reliable for explosive. In this training, we take them to search aircrafts, vehicles, buildings, stages etc so he becomes confident under all situations. We train them in all areas of the airport so at the time of duty they are used to the ambience, noise and activity level. This enables them to be confident and not scared of any situation,” he added. “After advanced training, we test them. Most of our dogs pass the advanced training test. There may sometimes be 1 or 2 percent who do not pass the test,” he said. As per him, if a dog is trained in detection of 9 pure explosives such as RDX, PETN, CE, TNT, nitro-glycerine, gunpowder, ammonium nitrate etc, he can detect most of the terrorist bombs. They target detection of 3gm of explosive during the training. There are more than 19,000 types of explosives today in the market.

The handlers are also given training, they are educated about the various characteristics of the canines. They are given both theoretical as well as practical training.

“Our major achievement currently has been in reducing the overall training time. Now our basic training takes 10 weeks and our advanced training takes 8 weeks,” told Dr. Narayanan.

The Dog Squad team is very sensitive towards their dogs. They train them with love and care and never use negative methods for training .

Dr. Narayanan further informed that they have a system of testing. The testing is not done by the Dog Squad officers but by the other code of officers. Those dogs and handlers who score less than 90 percent detection rate are not taken for operational purpose. For this, they have a detailed performa, which comes out every 6 months.

“We interview our handlers as against the performa,” he added. The dogs are sent to the airport for random checks everyday for 2 hours. They are always ready to be on duty to trace the explosives, if such a need arises. In case of any bomb threats, we take additional dogs with the bomb squad people along with all the latest equipments.

Once the training is completed, they are not at rest and have a fixed routine. Their day starts in the morning at 5:30 after which they are taken for half an hour of running, then they are given some rest. The 7 to 9 slot is set for training while the 9 to 9.30 slot is set for grooming. The food time is from 9.30 to 10 and they simply look forward to it. They are well fed and are given a well balanced diet.

“We have a medical sanction for the dogs,” told Yadav. After food, they are given some rest. They are kept on alert to check any unidentified object or sniff out particular areas.

They are also sent to other parts of Delhi to trace live bombs at certain occasions, when Delhi Police requests for services of the bomb squad. The Dog Squad team at Delhi airport does not have one dog one-handler system. “We have a multi-handler system so that, from the very beginning, they are used to most handlers. So that if one handler has to go on leave or is taken ill, will respond to the other people present there,” he added.

According to Dr. Narayanan, the detection rate after they train is 95 percent. “We have carried out a research and developed our own programme. We really focus on the dogs and ensure that they prove themselves. We give rigorous practice sessions for detection, which makes them more experienced and confident,” he added. Dr. Narayanan also stated that they are working on a new technique called “Remote Air Sampling Canine Olfaction (RASCO).” The explosive vapours are collected from the areas where dogs cannot go. The sample collection filter papers are then given to them. By this way the bomb hidden in a bigger packet, roof, ceiling etc can be detected. Experiments show that this technique is ideal for conducting anti-sabotage checks for VVIP security, cargo complexes and other sensitive areas.

If you happen to see a ‘detection’ dog at the airport, you will see the zeal, the charm and the confidence yourself. In a way, we owe our safety to these four-legged friends.

(Inputs from Dr. (Maj.) T V Narayanan, Deputy Commissioner of Security, Bomb Detection & Disposal Squad (BDDS), Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). He is responsible for formulating technical specifications/standards/testing protocol of security equipments deployed at airports in India. He is also in-charge of training and technical division of Bureau of Civil Aviation Society and in this capacity has widely travelled for conducting training programmes at all airports. He is also a member of International Explosive Technical Commission (IETC) and represents India as member of Adhoc Group of Specialists on diction of explosives, at International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Montreal, Canada. He has a doctorate in Canine response to terrorism and training of dogs in explosive detection from Nasik University.)

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