In the Navy Kennels Unit: Scent Sensations | Sunday Observer

In the Navy Kennels Unit: Scent Sensations

 Navy Vet, Lt.Commander Dayaratne and OIC Lieutenant Ayeeshan with dogs and handlers
Navy Vet, Lt.Commander Dayaratne and OIC Lieutenant Ayeeshan with dogs and handlers

The names Lido, Sally, Emma, Rocky, Ben, Bravo, Daisy, Debbie, Ruby, Bullet and Bingo are not normally found in a naval camp. These are the names of some adorable and intelligent dogs who are the pride of the Navy Kennels Unit located at SLNS Gemunu, Welisara.

The kennels are situated in a serene part of the base giving the dogs and their handlers loads of space to train and enjoy each other’s companionship. As we stepped down from our jeep, one of the first dogs that came near us was a Doberman, who alerted his friends to my presence by three short barking signals. Soon, there was collective barking, which stopped shortly with the emergence of the Officer in Charge, Lieutenant Ayeeshan and the Base Veterinary Surgeon Lt. Commander Dayaratne.

As we walked down the row of neatly maintained kennels one of the first canines to earnestly wag his tail was Lido, a male Labrador. His handler Keerthiratne opened the kennel gate and Lido was out in a flash, and seated at my side, awaiting his customary head rub. I obliged this Lido. The Vet Lt. Commander Dayaratne explains,“We have various breeds of dogs here- Dobermans, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels and Labradors. We train them for three specific duties, sniffing, locating narcotics and explosives. Other dogs are used for tracking, which requires endurance. The dog and handler must work effectively as a team”.

Our friendly dog, Lido, is an expert at finding concealed narcotics. In spite of his gentle and friendly disposition the dog displays advanced skills in the line of duty.

A detection dog or sniffer dog is one trained to use its natural senses to detect substances such as explosives, illegal drugs which often come via the sea routes, contraband electronics such as, illicit mobile phones. The sense most used by detection dogs is smell. Olfactions 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 US Navy, SEAL teams used dogs in their combat missions. The dog best suited for this task is the Belgian Malinois, who displays stamina and a robust disposition.

The Navy Kennels were established with just 10 dogs and 10 handlers in July 2008 under the concept of former Commander Admiral Karannagoda (retired). Since then, in keeping with naval requirement the dogs have increased to 30 and a staff of 37 sailors and two officers. The team renders a silent, yet, vital role in maintaining security at Naval Headquarters and other harbours.

Some dogs have advanced training in vessel boarding- a skill used by elite naval commandos who can board a vessel while the vessel is moving at sea. Like the sailors, the dogs are also able to make this bold jump when required. The canines are naturally gifted swimmers and enjoy water. They are taken to the beach occasionally to cool off and play. Few of the canines also ensure the safety of venues patronised by VIPs.

Some of the dogs are brought out of their kennels for a photograph. Our friend Lido uses his friendly charm to get his four legged friends to sit in line with the handlers.

 

A Rottweiler, in keeping with his natural aggressive instinct begins to bark, but Lido wields his influence and the photo is taken successfully. The handler of the German Shepherd, Emma shows the dog’s adherence to obedience commands. Emma obliges various commands including the basic ones of sit and stay.

Obedience is a key element in dog training.The dogs live in a disciplined manner on base and begin their day at 6.30 am with a walk.

This is followed by the daily inspection by the OIC and the veterinary officer, who check each dog to ensure that they maintain a “mind and body” conducive for active naval duty. Our tropical climate can become too hot on some days.

Bread and milk is served for breakfast. After a few minutes of rest the dogs are taken for training- to specialise as explosive and narcotics detection dogs and tracking dogs.

Normally, it would take a puppy six months to learn the skills required for his duty on the field. 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 p.m and the canine menu consists of chicken, rice and selected vegetables. Some of the dogs are sent on rotation for duty at the Trincomalee harbour. In addition, they give displays at public events organised by the Navy, where they thrill children as they boldly jump through a ring of fire.

The life of a Naval handler and his canine associate lasts about 6 to 7 years, when the dog will be ‘retired’ from 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 terrain. Initially, training was done with the help of the Police and Air Force kennels, but today, the Navy has their own training modules for the dogs.

Lieutenant Ayeeshan shows me two robust puppies that are presently being trained. The puppies indeed have an indomitable will to learn and earn the respect of their canine peers.

When it is time for us to leave the exuberant dog Lido, tags behind, and I oblige him with a farewell head rub. Lido and his canine comrades perform a vital role which finally contributes to Sri Lanka’s maritime defence.

 

 

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