Barking Orders : An Army Dog’s Purpose
Not all Bravehearts are soldiers at the border defending their motherland, to whom they owe their life. In fact, the four-pawed furry creature, a.k.a. man’s best friend lives up to its name, even when the going gets tough. Dogs play a vital role in the Indian Army, as avalanche rescuers, guards, mine detectors, sniffers, and patrollers. In recent times, Labradors, Misha and Dot have been awarded medals for their brave rescue operations in the Himalayas. In a one to one interview, we talk to the trainers to get the inside story of the life of a dog in the Army.
How are the dogs recruited into the forces?
All the dogs are bred in Remount & Veterinary Corps, Meerut unless there is an acute shortage, in which case we buy pups only from renowned breeders. Usually, only Labradors and German Shepherds are bred – out of which the former are preferred because they are not one-man dogs, and they are known to be the smartest of all breeds. All dogs are pure pedigrees that have KCI registration to ensure no cross-breeding has occurred.
The pups start the two-fold training at the age of six months. The first tier is basic obedience training – one can draw an analogy between NDA for officers and training school for dogs. After this, just as officers are assigned regiments, dogs are assigned their respective wings – bomb detection squad, avalanche rescue mission et al – based on their traits. Hereon, they are given special training over the next twenty four weeks which includes offsite training in Meerut for a brief period of time, following which on-grounds training happens.
He explained how none of the dogs were ever “rejected” or fired, based on incompetency. Every dog is just as capable, it’s just their learning curves that vary and only so slightly. They serve for eight years of their life, after which they are evaluated for their medical conditions. If they are fit enough, they serve for another year and a half. After retirement, they are all sent to an old age home in Meerut itself where they lead a content life. In fact, these dogs are even put up for adoption there.
How are the dogs taken care of in terms of their food, grooming, and welfare?
Dogs are treated exactly like soldiers. They too, have IC numbers like officers and soldiers that act as their identity. They are provided accommodation wherever they are posted. They get rations that ensure a wholesome diet. In fact, they are even given dog treats for every time they complete their obedience training well. Every dog is assigned a trainer who ensures that his “buddy” is healthy. They groom the dogs daily, feed them two meals a day, and provide them with a well cleaned, draught-free, bedded kennel. They ensure that the medical records are always kept up to date with regular vaccination, deworming, weight check, etc. Dogs have their own set of rights which is, essentially, the same as that of a human, and are well documented.
In fact, since all dogs are usually posted to high altitudes, they too, like humans are given time to acclimatise before they join in for their duties, which peak usually from September to March. Rest of the time, they are off-duty, which means they can relax and their handlers can go on leave.
While every wing of RVC is important, avalanche rescue plays a major role, especially during the winter – simply because it is nearly impossible for a human to carry out such rescue missions on their own. In the instance of the near tragic incident involving Lance Naik Hanumanthappa in Siachen, it was Misha and Dot, the Labradors that first sniffed out the soldier before the rescue party arrived. Avalanche rescue dogs are trained for a full period of thirty two weeks, of which most of it is in Meerut, while the rest – around six weeks- in High Altitude School of Training, Gulmarg. Every year several missions occur where dogs rescue soldiers or help retrieve their corpses. Astoundingly enough, these dogs are deployed only through helicopters. No other means of transport is used as road journeys – where roads exist – are far more tiresome for them.
On Dot and Misha:
Dot is a rambunctious, four and a half years old dog, while Misha is nine, and more sobered down. Both their parents have been canines who have served in the army. Misha may retire soon, but Dot definitely has a long way to go. In the past two years, both have displayed extraordinary courage and intelligence, and have aided several avalanche rescue missions. In order to recognize this exemplary behavior, they, along with their trainers have been awarded various medals of honour. The highest honour a dog can receive is the Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card (COAS CC). The following are the honours Dot and Misha have been conferred with:
LAB (ARO) Dot: 15 Jan 2016 & 15 Aug 2016, COAS CC
LAB (ARO) Dot: Maj Gen RN Kacker Trophy
LAB (ARO) Misha: 15 Aug 2016 COAS CC
An ancient Greek saying goes, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” Having risen beyond what’s expected of them, in some of the harshest conditions this world can offer, it’s obvious our canine units leave this notion in the dust. Not all heroes are soldiers at the border, but the dogs certainly mirror their human counterparts’ loyalty, valor, and discipline.
Featured image courtesy: Sahil Jaiswal