A dog is a man’s best friend. Dogs and humans have been together for millenniums. Such is the bond between them that the presence of one in each other’s life has been demonstrated to release oxytocin, the ‘happy’ hormone. The role of these dogs in a man’s life has also evolved from herding, and hunting, to policing and now therapy dogs. A police dog, also known as a K9 unit, is a specifically trained dog to assist police and other law-enforcement personnel. These trained dogs have outstanding working abilities and a strong desire to cooperate with their handlers. RS Rathore (Retd), Ex-IG(BSF) points out: “Dogs have a very high power of sense, super detection power and peculiar supremacy of vision.” While man can see an angle of 180 degrees, dogs can do it up to 270 degrees. Dogs can detect any unusual movement in crowded public areas and they are born with the supernatural capability to hear pin-drop sounds. “The agility trainings are imparted in such a manner that it builds up confidence in dogs to carry on all their special powers without fear or any complex,” he adds.
Performance standards of police dogs
Police dogs that are part of canine squads of Central para-military forces shall now be evaluated annually based on the ‘K9 proficiency evaluation test’ developed by the home ministry in line with global performance standards, while all young dogs will be put through ‘K9 behaviour assessment test’ at the entry-level to evaluate their suitability for detection purpose or patrol work or for both, and get trained accordingly, a top official in the home ministry told TreeTake. The K9 proficiency evaluation test (PET) and K9 behaviour assessment test (BAT) have been devised by the MHA Police K9 cell, a dedicated wing established last year under the police modernisation division of the home ministry with the mandate of mainstreaming and augmentation of police K9s in the country. The Police K9 cell, which was established within the MHA in 2019, plans to streamline the breeding, training, and selection of dogs. It has set up a proficiency cell to implement a new set of behaviour assessment tests, what it calls the ‘Augmentation of K9s by Licensing as per Accreditation Norms (AKLAN)’. These tests will assess the proficiency of pups for police and paramilitary roles. Earlier, there was no model of assessment and only random audits were carried out. The long-term plan is to let the Central forces assess the proficiency of their working dogs internally every six months and put them through an independent audit on an annual basis. An interesting advantage of the yearly evaluation of the proficiency of trained police dogs is that their testimony shall be admissible in a court of law. This means that the evidence gathered by the canines in the form of narcotics, explosives, etc detected by them, shall be admissible in a court of law since their proficiency would have been assessed and certified within a legally accepted timeframe. The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), with nearly 4,000 canines, are the largest police dog users in the country.
“The only thumb rule in dog training is that there is no thumb rule”
Latest methodologies and concepts are adopted for training the dogs in most humane and kind manner without use of any coercive methods. The training techniques are based on positive reinforcement and reward.
NTCD: The Alma Mater of the dog world
The National Training Centre for Dogs (NTCD) was established on 18th April 1970 as a ‘Dog School’ at Tekanpur, Madhya Pradesh. A 22-acre campus housing a complete combo of a training facility, kennels- both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned accommodations, a breeding centre, a veterinary hospital, and quarantine, rearing units. NTCD is devoted to imparting training to dogs and handlers of various Central and State Police Forces and other Law Enforcement agencies of India and friendly Foreign Nations including Bangladesh, & occasionally to Nepal, Ghana, Seychelles, Bhutan, Mauritius, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. The Centre is also carrying out selective breeding of Labrador Retriever, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and newly inducted Indian breeds (Rampur Hound, Mudhol Hound, Rajapalayam). NTCD is the only dog training centre in the country which is the proud holder of ‘Centre of Excellence status by the Ministry of Home Affairs and ISO:9001 certification. Overall activities on the campus of NTCD come under three broad categories – training, breeding, and theory classes for dog handlers. Also, at some stage “Refreshers training courses are also very important because we need to constantly maintain (refresh) efficiency, proficiency and performance of both dogs and handlers from time to time,” mentions RS Rathore (Retd), Ex-IG(BSF). “Our agility training site is equipped with modern equipment and accessories. We deeply focus on outdoor training by creating real-life scenarios, as this exercise gives our pooches an exposure to the environment where they would be deployed later on in real,” he explains.
Lifecycle of a K9 dog
A dog’s age when they can begin to work as a police dog is between 12 and 15 months (roughly 1.3 years). That’s usually when dogs reach maturity and can concentrate on training. The average working lifespan of a police dog is roughly 8 years, starting from the moment they are enlisted to become a K9 officer.
Procurement and Training
Below is shown the phase-wise training schedule for preparing every puppy into a K9 dog:
Phase 1: Selection of puppy: Procurement of puppies mainly depends on in-house breeding, or through the tendering process from private breeding centres, in exceptional cases, like Bhogadi Kennel Club, Sikanderabad, Telangana. However, only such firms can apply that have the KCI (Kennel Club of India) registration certificate of availability of imported sire & dam or from imported lineage as parental stock for breeding as specified in tender specifications. The breeder/supplier should have a history of doing scientific breeding and following best practices. For breeding centres this is a tedious and very technically vetted process. Carefully maintaining the working lines to avoid “inbreeding depression”. Genetic tweaking is done over a period of time to assimilate preferable traits. For this import, or countrywide search, or even stud services are resorted to. Every puppy appears for an aptitude test, where it is keenly observed. They are made to run or take rest; in whichever way, their potential traits are best exhibited.
Phase 2: Trade identification & Puppy Foundation Training: Based on the Behaviour Assessment Test, starting from puppyhood, specific trade is assigned to the dog & methodology of training is devised. There are majorly two verticals of “trade”- sniffing and patrolling. Sniffers, who actively use their noses, include explosives detection and narcotics detection, crude oil detection, and mine detection. A new category of sniffers is being trained to detect mobile phone thefts. Patrol dogs are trained for assault, guard, trackers, infantry patrol, and search & rescue operations. After trade identification is done which might be most suitable for the puppy, training for the puppy starts. The time duration for such training ranges from 24 to 36 weeks.
For the trade selected- house manners are taught. Other activities include jumps, routine agility sessions, etc. This phase constitutes the analogous preschool phase of the puppy. The tiny ‘agility’ park where all small pups after 12 weeks of age play around. Actually, this kind of outdoor activity is necessary for young pups socialising with various kinds of new sounds, touches which we call socialisation, familiarisation, localisation and vocalisation. Monitoring the behaviour and temperament of each breed is done right from their puppy stages. Sanjay, the dog handler at Lucknow division, adds that if there is shy behaviour or submissive/dominant aggressions, they improve/remove at this early stage of life. These low hurdles, mini tunnels, and other play items installed in the tiny park help the puppies remove any kind of phobias of objects or obstacles. Alongside a selection of the handler for every potential puppy starts.
Phase 3: Marrying up: Whereby the dog is attached to a handler. This association remains intact until the dog dies. This entire formal training- including tactical obedience & trade work- spans for six months or a 24-week period in general, extending to 36 weeks for trackers, and 10 months for dual-purpose dogs. They are treated like young recruits once they join the NTCD and pass out as soldiers once they complete their training period.
Service period of the dog with the handler
In-depth insight into the matter was given to us by dog handler Sanjay Kumar Singh, Dog Squad, Dog Squad Commissionerate, Police Lines, Lucknow. He voluntarily enrolled for the said course after having served as a constable in Pradeshik Armed Constabulary (PAC). Earlier there were dog squads only in prominent cities like Lucknow, Meerut, etc. Now almost three-fourth of district headquarters in Uttar Pradesh have a dog squad. On every dog, there is a single handler, and if necessary, assisted by an assistant.
The training starts at around 5. 30 am and finishes at 6. 30 pm with breaks for rest and meal time. They live in their kennels which include a porch, a room, and a courtyard. Each dog has its own kennel. Their day begins with a temperature check, followed by ground exercises constituting outdoor classes- including obedience sessions where they are made to obey to special commands like ‘sit’, ‘roll’, ‘slip’, etc. Then there are action drills, where the dog apes the handler’s body moves including salutation. Daily exercises are followed by grooming sessions including combing, nail cutting, checking for ticks, and any medications including injections, nutrition tablets etc. Thereafter they are served food in their kennel. They undergo their evening drills including a parade, grooming, etc. And their last meal is served at 6 pm, after which they go to their kennels.
Unfortunately, there is no provision for a post-retirement pension for squad dogs. Police dogs that reach their full life expectancy and keep right on chugging are considered geriatric. These dogs may have chronic health conditions or be on long-term medications. Quality of life may start to become a concern for police dogs who reach this stage. K9 life expectancy cannot be accurately predicted. Several factors affect how long a police dog unit works, lives, and when they retire including, dog breed, health status, job dangers, among others. Aged dogs are let off from service in three ways post-retirement. Either they are given away for adoption to the same handler, because of the chemistry they both share. If in any case adoption does not go through, due to space issues at home or the extra personal cost of maintaining the dog, etc, there are other options too. The second option is to give away these dogs to willing officers and jawans. Thirdly, the remaining dogs get retired to old age homes for police dogs maintained by the forces themselves, where they are taken care of as ex-servicemen.
Considerations in mind while adopting retired police dogs
Life may not always be easy for retired police dogs. It’s common for K9s to exhibit negative behaviours such as:
- Separation anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Anti-social behaviour
Here are a few things to consider before adopting a police dog:
- Most retired police dogs are in their senior years, which means more attention and care
- It is a huge commitment of time and money
- Some K-9 are retired due to injuries or medical problems. Ongoing care expenses are the responsibility of the new owner.
- The process to adopt a retired or “failed” police dog isn’t an easy one
Dog handler’s side of the story
Usually, such persons sign up for the job who are animal lovers. They are majorly drafted from the constables or sub-inspector level, aged 30-35 years, in various forces through the application process. A dog handler’s training is for 9 months at the NTCD. In case of minimum manpower lacking, a shorter training for 3 months or 12 weeks is available. Though there are perks of a stable posting for the constable while serving as a dog handler, unless there is an emotional connection with the animal, they cannot continue longer. The reason being a dog handler means one has to take care of his dog even when he falls sick. Apart from being an animal lover, he must be physically fit, & healthy. The relationship the handler and the dog share is that of a father-son, as per Sanjay. He goes on to say that even if the dog is sad after scolding, he will still love back his master the very next moment. So much is the affection that Sanjay rates it more than he gets at his home. And it is this “dutiful” son, who would follow all the orders of his “fatherly” handler.
Privileges of dogs being part of Dog Squad
Police dogs, as far as Uttar Pradesh Police Department is concerned, get paid Rs 425 per day for food, excluding medicines and other needs. This daily allowance may vary from state to state. On their birthdays these dogs are surprised with special cakes, & additionally a special feed of meat of different types. They get rewarded with toys like a ball, & stuffed toys. Then transportation is available, whenever they have a crime reported. Their living conditions are luxurious and comparable to their other counterparts. Their kennels are well equipped with fans, coolers, and in winter- coats, jackets, blankets, etc. For exemplary services given by any police dog, she/he is occasionally rewarded with an honorary ranking in police services. Upon retirement, their treatment is enviable even to humankind. Every dog is taken care of by their handler till their last breadth, as per Sanjay, the dog handler at Lucknow Police lines. Until the death of the dog, the handler does not take up any other dog under him, so the retired dog’s care is a full-time job for his handler, which the handler takes up seriously. They are groomed, fed, made to exercise, and rest as per the requirement of their age.
Stories of Valour
Tiger: The Canine Club of India, a government agency, gave Tiger the police dog, to the UP Police in 2003, when he was 11 months old. He helped the police force in many cases like finding the body of a child in the depths of a mini-canal and tracking criminals deep in the jungle. With his hard work and talent, he was awarded the rank of deputy superintendent of police which is the highest rank a police dog could have.
Fat: A girl child’s body was found raped and murdered, lying in the fields of the village in Deva Thana, Barabanki. The dog handler, Sanjay, reached the crime scene just as the news spread. The objects found on the crime scene included a diary and a plastic glass. The dog was given the scent of the objects. The dog traced the scent via the fields, through the village, to a “locked” house. The dog kept barking. The lock was broken, but none was inside. The dog led the team through the stairs to the terrace. A man was lying on a cot inebriated. Further investigation proved him to be the culprit. He was sentenced to be hanged till death for the rape and murder of a child.
Utkal: At Banthara, Lucknow, in a temple, the body of a pundit’s wife was found & donation box was also reported missing. Prima facie it looked like a robbery. But the dog, Utkal, barked after getting a scent. It traced the scent to a nearby field where the pundit of the temple was hiding and a donation box was also located. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the pundit had planned the murder since he had secretly married the sister of his wife. The dog handler reveals how dogs can help more effectively in cracking the case. The crime scene should be as intact as possible. Other things that help him pick up the scent are murder weapons on-site, other foreign objects like clothing, handkerchief, and even footprints.
Contribution of Police dogs to wildlife protection
Recently a squad of 'super sniffer’ dogs is being trained to ensure the protection of the eight cheetahs that were released in the Kuno National Park recently. Separately a dog is being trained at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force's (ITBP) National Training Centre to join the group. They will be posted on the national park's outskirts, alongside forest guards, to safeguard cheetahs and other wildlife from poachers. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) has also deployed wildlife sniffer dog squads for the first time in India and it has helped them to detect the smuggling of contraband and rare species of wildlife through the railway network. These dogs are trained by ITBP dog training centre in collaboration with TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network) and WWF-India (World Wide Fund for Nature India). The dog training has yielded results and helped in the arrest of poachers and recoveries of wildlife species and their remains. TRAFFIC organization funds the training of the dog until the dog gets placed with a dog handler. Not all forest divisions have dogs stationed, but only the older ones and prominent national parks now. Like in Uttar Pradesh only Dudhwa National Park and Katarnighat forest division have dogs with handlers. Routine check-ups are done at the check-posts along state highways that pass through the jungles. Other law enforcement agencies, like the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Tiger Protection Force, and Special Task Force, work in tandem with the forest officials in terms of information sharing and intelligence tips, as per Ranga Raju T, IfoS, Dudhwa National Park administration.
Developments in the pipeline:
The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) is planning a three-fold expansion of its canine squads over the next few years. The Police Modernisation Division tasked with equipping the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), recommended augmenting breeding by CAPF dog training and breeding centres to produce 1,000 pups of various breeds each year. The MHA presently acquires around 300 pups a year.
Greater diversity of breeds- push for indigenisation
Presently The three major breeds—German Shepherd, Labrador, and Belgian Malinois—will be augmented by several Indian breeds showing great promise at initial training with the CAPFs. The CAPFs are also assessing the suitability of inducting various Indian hounds for police duties. The CRPF is evaluating the Combai dog, native to Tamil Nadu, while the BSF (Border Security Force) is trying out the Rampur Greyhound, native to northern India. The ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) and SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal) are trying out four species of Himalayan sheep dogs—the Gaddi, Bakharwal, Tibetan Mastiff and Himachali hounds. This comes along with PM Modi’s insistence on bringing home more Indian breeds for adoption, under the government’s overall push for “indigenisation”. As per NTCD vets, Indian breeds are excelling at tasks. Apart from being highly agile due to their lean and thin physique, they excel at adaptability compared to foreign breed counterparts, especially in adverse habitats like Naxal areas, mountainous tracks, etc. Earlier there was a perception in the administration as well as dog handlers that indigenous breeds cannot outperform foreign imported breeds. They were considered dim-witted and easily distracted. This difficulty was compounded due to the training manuals being 100 years old and compiled by Germans based on the study of their indigenous breeds. However, now NTCD is pioneering techniques for training indigenous breeds.
Street Dogs as a force multiplier
Street dogs as per NTCD vets are being eyed for their potential role in “policing our neighbourhoods”. But before that their well-being is being safeguarded under new Draft rules - The proposed Animal Birth Control Rules, 2022. They have provisions for a monitoring committee that will decide to control the excess population of street dogs through animal birth control programmes in a specific area. In order to resolve the complaints of dog bites or rabid dogs, it suggests setting up an animal helpline by local authorities. Rules also fix the local responsibility of resident welfare associations (RWAs) in feeding community animals in their respective localities, seeking to end day-to-day conflicts between such associations and dog feeders.
Induction of female handlers
Dog handlers in the central armed police forces (CAPFs) have been an all-male domain until now. BSF and ITBP have inducted women personnel who will be the first among the central paramilitary forces to be trained as handlers for canine squads deployed in various security theatres, including anti-Naxal operations. The CAPF feels women would be more successful in the dog handling domain due to their motherly instincts and feeling of empathy. A stronger argument is the performance of NATO forces where it is observed that dogs were more receptive to the feminine voice, as a dog processes the commands based on frequency alone, and therefore, a female voice frequency will enhance trainability.
The CAPFs are exploring the use of dogs for other tasks, such as fake currency identification and drone detection. The CAPF is also training dual-purpose dogs. The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) is the only CAPF that employs multipurpose canines for counter-Maoist operations. Dual-purpose canines are the way ahead because while explosive detection dogs use their nose to work, their natural instinct be also exploited i.e., to attack and defend. There are talks going on consideration of modern breeding techniques, such as artificial insemination, and an upgrade in canine training. The CAPF are coming up with novel ideas to engage retired dogs. Last year, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) decided to utilise the services of its retired combat canines as "therapy dogs" to help in the early recuperation of personnel undergoing medical treatment and also for their specially-abled children.
Dogs are emotionally the closest animals to human beings. The single most important thing for them is loyalty, such a difficult virtue to go by these days. Humans having tapped into the intelligence of these animals is a new “high” for this relationship. New role identification is a work in progress, & as per experts from NTCD 80% of their potential of service to humans remains untapped. Post-retirement roles should further be explored to maintain the mental health of these dogs. Post-retirement care of dogs, plus the function of therapy dogs has dual-sided benefits for both the human & dogs.