Navy dogs Assist in daring missions

May 21, 2021

Navy dogs Assist in daring missions

By Dishan Joseph

The Navy is synonymous with the ocean and ships. Interestingly the Sri Lanka Navy has a fully combat-capable ground force component for various duties. Among these shore establishments a special section of sailors are stationed at SLNS Gemunu in Welisara. These sailors are the proud handlers of the robust Navy dogs.

The Navy Kennels (K-9 Branch) has a variety of dog breeds each with a special skill. The kennels are situated in a serene part of this massive naval base giving the dogs and their handler’s loads of space to train and work. As we stepped down from our jeep, there was a collective chorus of barking, as the dogs realized the presence of a stranger on base.

As we walked down the row of neatly maintained kennels, one of the first canines to earnestly wag his tail was a Labrador. His handler opened the kennel gate and the amiable dog was happy to wander outside. I obliged this amiable dog with a head rub and he was soon very relaxed. I was told that there are various breeds of dogs stationed here – Dobermans, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Labradors.

The Navy K-9 officers have effectively trained their dogs for specific duties – locating narcotics and explosives. Some other dogs are used for tracking, which requires endurance. The dog and handler must work effectively as a team in order to make the desired detections. The present Officer in Charge is Lieutenant Tharindu Jayawardene and the Base Veterinary Surgeon is Lieutenant Commander Dayaratne.

The friendly Labrador is an expert at finding concealed narcotics. In spite of his gentle and charming disposition this dog displays advanced skills when deployed on duty. A detection dog or sniffer dog is one trained to use its natural senses to detect substances such as explosives, illegal drugs which are often smuggled using sea routes, electronic contraband (i.e. illicit mobile phones).

The sense used by detection dogs is smell. Olfaction is a chemo reception that forms the sense of smell. Olfaction has many purposes, such as, the detection of hazards. It integrates with other senses to form the sense of flavour. Olfaction occurs when odorants bind to specific sites on the olfactory receptors located in the nasal cavity.

In the global naval arena the US Navy SEAL teams use dogs in their combat missions. The dog best suited for this task is the Belgian Malinois, who displays stamina and a robust disposition. The Sri Lanka Navy Kennels were established with just 10 dogs and 10 handlers in July 2008 under the concept of former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda.

In the formative years, training was done with the help of the Police Kennels and Air Force Kennels, but subsequently the Navy had developed and mastered their own mission-specific training modules for the dogs. Since then, in keeping with naval requirements, the number of trained dogs has increased. The team renders a silent service in maintaining security at Naval Headquarters and other strategic harbours.

Some dogs have advanced training in vessel boarding – a skill used by elite naval commandos of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS). These tough sailors undertake many dangerous operations. The SBS commandos can board a vessel while the vessel is moving at sea. Alongside the sailors, the dogs are also able to make this bold jump at deep sea when required. When searching a suspicious vessel the dogs can detect and offer security to the naval raiding party. The canines are naturally gifted swimmers and enjoy the water. Canines working within the SBS have adapted to working by day and night, and are capable of operating in the face of enemy gunfire. This shows their level of training and confidence in their naval handlers. The dogs were trained at the Welisara kennels and handed over to the Special Boat Squadron. The dogs are taken to the beach occasionally to cool off and play. Some of the canines also engage in securing venues patronized by VIPs by doing advance search and sweeps.

A dominant Rottweiler, in keeping with his natural aggressive instinct began to bark as we approached his kennel. The handler of the alert German Shepherd named Emma showed me the dog’s adherence to obedience commands. Emma followed each of these sharp commands, showing the high level of training and teamwork. Obedience is a key element in dog training.

These military working dogs live on base and begin their day at 6.30 am. The handlers take them for a walk. This is followed by the daily inspection under the supervision of the OIC and the veterinary officer, who check each dog to ensure that they maintain a ‘mind and body’ conducive for active duty. Our tropical climate can sometimes become too hot on certain days.

The dogs enjoy the bread and milk which is served for breakfast. After a few minutes rest, the dogs are taken for training – to continuously enhance their skills as explosive and narcotics detection dogs and tracking dogs. Sally, Emma, Rocky, Ben, Bravo, Daisy, Debbie, Ruby, Bullet and Bingo are some of the name boards I observed.

According to an officer normally it would take a puppy six months to learn the skills required for his duty on the field. This depends on the dog’s ability, temperament and bonding with the handler. Likewise, the handler has many tasks in caring for his dog. Each dog works with only one handler – thus the dog and handler can read each other’s mind and body language. Grooming the dog also takes time and enhances the bond between man and beast. Dinner is served at 6.30 pm and the canine menu consists of chicken, rice and selected vegetables.

The K9 Branch has expanded to having a sub detachment at SLNS Nipuna (Galle) and SLNS Tissa (Trincomalee). They hope to expand their canine branches in the future. In April this year, a new operating theatre for the dogs was opened at the Welisara kennels under the prudent directive of incumbent Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, along with the support of the Navy Seva Vanitha Branch.

In addition to routine military duties, the Navy Kennels take part in drill displays at public events organized by the Navy, where they entertain children. An inspiring performance is when dogs boldly jump through a ring of fire. The active duty period of a naval dog is approximately six years, when the dog will be gradually retired at the end active duty. The dog and handler share a strong emotional bond. The routine of a working military dog is no easy task. The dogs work in various weather conditions and difficult terrain – crossing fields, river banks and densely wooded areas. There are 30 dogs and handlers who dedicatedly perform a vital task augmenting the naval security objectives.

Courtesy - www.dailynews.lk