Busting terror, sniffing out Covid: Govt wants security dogs to do more


From receiving instructions on radio frequency sets and walking alone into terror situations, to detecting infection with the novel coronavirus and the onset of cancer, the government is looking at utilising the potential of security dogs for much more than sniffing and tracking.

Following the establishment of a “Police K9 Cell” in the Police Modernisation Division of the Home Ministry, the government has begun an exercise to bring existing capabilities of dog squads up to international levels, and to help the animals acquire new capabilities such as medical disease diagnosis, wildlife protection, and anti-trafficking work in the long run.

Home Minister Amit Shah recently launched the first “Police K9 Journal” in which best practices and innovative ideas for improving dog squads will be discussed.

“Dogs are a great force multiplier with a proven track record over centuries. Somehow we have not focused on them as much as we should. A recent Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) report said we need 35,000 more dogs. At the same time, our training facilities, modules and care-giving has not fixed even the basics. So we are trying to create an ecosystem where things get standardised, and we can become world-class,” a senior Ministry official said.

The country’s elite counter-terror force, the National Security Guard (NSG), has already trained its dogs to walk alone into an ongoing terror attack or hostage situation, and relay information back to control room and to soldiers preparing to storm the scene. A Motorola radio set pouch is fixed on the dog’s collar to convey voice commands when it is far and out of its handler’s sight.

“This has helped in setting the foundation for getting acquainted/familiarized with the handler’s radio device voice recognition by the K9s and further ease to deploy K9s with K9 Vision System and Canine Remote Deployment System,” the Police K9 Journal says about the new tech and training.

Col (Dr) PK Chugh, who headed this training programme at the NSG and is currently Consulting Director at the Police K9 Cell, said the innovation would go a long way in not only saving soldier’s lives, but would also provide crucial information about the location of terrorists or explosive devices inside a venue.

“If we look at precedence, most soldier deaths happen in the first burst of fire when we are not aware of the situation inside a building or hideout. In this case, a trained dog with a radio set can go in with his handler passing on directions. The dog can relay back crucial information to the control room or even wrist devices of soldiers who can then storm the place. If a terrorist is sighted, the dog can be instructed to attack him,” Col. Chugh said.

During the 26/11 attacks, one of the challenges that security forces faced was the enormity of the Taj Palace Hotel, and the absence of information on the location of terrorists and IEDs. Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the Indian Army, then serving in the NSG, had lost his life while storming the hotel.

Home Ministry sources said the government is currently focussed on improving the security capabilities of its dog squads by setting benchmarks, training protocols, and guidelines; also so that squads across the country have the same capabilities. This, they said, will help interoperability and sharing of resources.

“We are also looking at developing dual purpose dogs. Currently most forces have two sets of dogs — sniffers and attackers. But there are breeds such as German shepherd and Belgian malinois, which have both capabilities and can be used for both purposes,” Chugh said.

In the long run, the Ministry also plans to develop capabilities such as disease-detection dog squads. “A model is being developed internationally for even detection of cancer, hypertension, seizures and nervous disorders. They have been successfully detected by dogs. We will certainly catch up to that standard in the long run,” Chugh, who is also a member of the International K9 Working Group for Covid Detection Dogs, said.

Every disease has a volatile organic compound (VOC) associated with it. The VOCs give a specific odour to body fluids, which can be detected by dogs. Currently this is being done internationally through sweat and urine. In the case of Covid, due to administrative difficulties of collecting urine, body odour is being relied upon.

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