Serving With Pride, Discipline and Honour
Meet the dogs and their handlers of the Military Working Dog Unit
Lean, muscular with a jet-black coat and golden-tipped fur, Kita the guard dog, is exactly how one imagines a military police dog to be. The German Shepherd stood by her handler, ears upright, eyes laser-focused and hungry for the prize.
Upon her handler’s order, Kita tore across the field and sank her teeth into the arm of the baiter. Despite being lifted off the air, a growling Kita maintained a fierce grip with no intention of letting the enemy go. With a single command, the German Shepherd released her grip and returned to her handler.
Military Working Dog Unit
Established in 1970 at Seletar West Camp, the SAF Dog Company was founded together with a handful of dogs and handlers from the Royal Air Force and Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Renamed the Military Working Dog Unit in 2006, the headquarters has seen several relocations before its current base at Mowbray Camp.
The Military Working Dog Unit oversees three arms of military working dogs: Narcotic Detection Dogs, Arms and Explosives
Dogs and Guard Dogs. Military working dogs are used to conduct operations such as routine spot checks and security operations held in military camps around Singapore.
The military working dogs are separated into two main categories – guard dogs and sniffer dogs. Through patrolling the military camps, the guard dogs are essential to maintaining the security of these bases.
The breeds of the guard dogs include the German Shepherd and Malinois. On the other hand, sniffer dogs play an important role in the detection of contraband items. These working dog breeds include Springer Spaniels, Labradors and Golden Retrievers.
The handler’s duties
Each working dog is assigned two handlers, a primary and secondary handler. While the primary handler undergoes training with the canine, the secondary handler is responsible for supporting the primary handler’s duties. In ensuring their furry partner’s well-being, handlers are trained to groom and to identify potential medical issues the dogs may face. All handlers are trained to handle a guard dog during their basic training. It is only after assessments based on the handlers’ interactions with the dogs will they be assigned as a guard dog or sniffer dog handler. Today, dog handlers are made up of a majority of Full-time National Servicemen.
Meet the sniffer dogs
Wagging her tail in excitement, it did not take long for Xena to notice the suitcases lined before her.
The three-year-old Labrador sits by her handler patiently, awaiting his command. As soon as the green light was given, the sniffer dog’s olfactory skills are put to the test. With a few quick sniffs, the intelligent canine had correctly identified the suitcase with the contraband items by proceeding to sit by it. With a gleeful look, Xena’s eyes darted from the identified suitcase to her handler and back, as if to further emphasise her good job well done.
“We have a few black Labradors, but I think she’s the most adorable,” smiles her primary handler, CPL Damien Phang. “Xena is very obedient, but a little timid.” Having worked together since
2017, the duo has worked up quite the chemistry. “When I first joined the Military Working Dog Unit, Xena was still undergoing training. I’m really proud to have witnessed her passing out as an operationally ready dog – definitely one of the most memorable moments.”
After a morning session of grooming, the working dogs will dedicate their time to training with their handlers. When she is not hard at work, Xena can be found enjoying a game of fetch with CPL Damien. “We are allowed to bring our dogs out for playtime,” he explains. “But this is only after we have completed the day’s training.”
It may come as a surprise, but one of the most important qualities of a sniffer dog, besides a keen sense of smell, is playfulness. As a sniffer dog is required to identify and sniff out contraband items, it is important for a dog to be receptive to rewards before it can qualify as a sniffer dog.
Circling the suitcase, Millie looked at her handler expectantly. Having identified the baggage containing the contraband items, the fouryear-old Labrador began pawing at it impatiently. One can almost hear her say, “This suitcase, this one!” At the other end of the room, CPL Darius Ng waited patiently for Millie to assume a sitting position before approaching his partner. “Millie has a sensitive nose, is smart and well-liked by the Unit.” When asked for the reason behind Millie’s popularity, CPL Darius laughs, “Why? Because she is cute.” Already an operationally ready dog when CPL Darius took over, the duo, similar to CPL Damien and Xena, has embarked on various operations. Their first operation together however, was a little more challenging than CPL Darius expected. “Millie was not very driven and she was tired out shortly after the operation began,” the handler recalls.
Determined to motivate his partner, CPL Darius’ training sessions with Millie paid off, as the Labrador exhibited extraordinary drive during their subsequent operations.
When talking about his favourite aspect of Millie, CPL Darius’ face shone with pride. “She gets very excited when I approach her kennel,” he smiles. “Once she senses that I am about to leave, she will begin to bark.” A dog owner himself, CPL Darius explained how his work at the Military Working Dog Unit has helped strengthen his bond with his Corgi at home. “I am much more comfortable being around my Corgi because of my constant interaction with dogs.”
Retired military working dogs
In the field across the Military Police Unit, Vivi’s brown coat shone in the late afternoon sun as she embarked on a determined chase of her toy ball. Despite being eleven years of age, the Hungarian Vizsla’s playful nature is evident. On the other hand, Trip, a nineyear-old Belgian Malinois, had other plans as he made a beeline for the nearest shade.
A retired sniffer dog and guard dog, Vivi and Trip are two of the veteran military working dogs available for adoption. At around eight years of age, the dogs will withdraw from their frontline duties and enter “semi-retirement’” before they are put up for adoption. Obedient, adaptable and loyal, these are just some of the benefits of adopting a retired military working dog.
Giving them a forever home
To be eligible for adoption, the dogs will have to be medically certified and deemed suitable for a home environment. Handlers, past or present, may also adopt the dogs if they meet the adoption criteria. As for retired dogs who are not suitable for adoption or are not adopted, rest assured that they will be cared for by the Unit. For potential adoptees, do note that adoption drives are held from
April to May annually.
A morning session of grooming with Xena
Left: Darius & Millie Right: Damian & Xena
Millie at work
Vivi, a retired sniffer dog is up for adoption