Serv­ing With Pride, Dis­ci­pline and Hon­our

Meet the dogs and their han­dlers of the Mil­i­tary Work­ing Dog Unit

Clubpets - - THE KENNEL -

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

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