Canine sensations | Sunday Observer

Canine sensations

The names, Elvis, Honey, Beyo, Sowa, Berby, Tante, Bruno, Gismo, Emma, Sandy, Lexi and Disky are not normally found on a military base. Yet, these active members of the Army are stationed at Mattegoda.

They are the beloved dogs of the Engineer Regiment. They captivate the officers and men alike.

These intelligent canines are part of the Corps and live like soldiers. They begin their day at 5 am, with a walk and grooming session. Breakfast consists of an egg and milk. Thereafter, the dogs are sent for various tasks, including the securing of venues for VVIP events. Returning to camp they eat lunch at 2pm. All of these dogs are of the Belgium Malinois breed and this present batch has been bred in Sri Lanka.

Each canine has a handler, who is known as a sapper. I walked into their large shelter accompanied by Lt.Colonel Pradeep Siriwardene, Major Asanka Hidellarachchi and Major Nalin Marasinghe. The dogs are quite excited and begin to bark. The dogs gave us a display of their sniffing skills, as they located a fragment of concealed explosive: when the substance is detected the dog sits down indicating its find to the handler. The handler must be alert to understand and recognize the body language of his dog.

The officer overseeing this silent, yet, important task is Brigadier Amith Seneviratne of the Engineer Brigade. He says, “We train the dog when he is a puppy of six months. We begin by obedience commands and reward the dog. The dogs get used to the system of reward based learning”. Over the next one and a half years the dogs and handlers train together identifying various explosives in various terrains and weather conditions.

At two years of age the canine is fully ready for duty. These amazing dogs can pick up traces of explosives at even 20 centimeters below ground level. Training is followed to international standards, and the dogs have won accolades in the USA at the Marshal Legacy Institute for their role in humanitarian demining.

On the field the dogs work in pairs: at times the first dog detects the explosive and the second dog confirms it, thus eliminating any human risk. I found out that the dogs have the capacity to work during day and night. They have a service lifespan of 8 to 12 years. The handlers tell me that the bond between themselves and their dogs is a key element of their teamwork. Today, the teams can respond to any location by an air conditioned vehicle. Since 1951, the Engineer Regiment has a proud history of handling explosive ordnance disposal and demining.

These teams have silently cleared many acres of land in the Northern Province. In the global arena there is a risk of CBRNE attacks, and these dogs with their enhanced sense of smell play an important role as first responders. The unit hopes to expand and increase the number of trained dogs in the future. 

Dogs with their handlers