Issue 5.1 | April 2001 | Information in this issue may be out of date. Click here to link to the most recent issue.
of Integrating Mine Dogs into Humanitarian Demining
By Margaret Busé, MAIC
|From sentry duty for Napoleon to mine sniffing in Vietnam, dogs have played key roles in war and peace for centuries. More accurate than human beings and many metal detectors, dogs are now being used in more and more detection capacities.|
The story of mine detection dogs (MDD) is really the story of the successes and failures of canine use in the military. Dogs have been used since antiquity by armies both passively and actively. In the 20th century, the Red Cross and European military utilized dogs with a high degree of success. The establishment of organized training facilities, instilling the proper training of both dog and handler and capitalizing, utilizing and understanding a dog's skills, are the key elements of a favorable canine operation. MDDs and their uses have benefited from lessons learned by the earlier use of dogs in the military. While there may still be challenges to fully utilizing a mine dog's potential, they have been deployed by commercial companies and NGOs with varying degrees of success. Their use will continue to be debated in the HD community until better scientific understanding of their scent detection capabilities is demonstrated and the relationship between the handler and canine improves.
|The relationsip between handler and canine is a key component in the success of a working dog. c/o AP|
Origins of the War Dog
Dogs were first used as an offensive and defensive weapon of war, "Persians, Greeks, Assyrians and Babylonians all recognized the tactical advantage of war dogs and deployed them as forward attacking elements," writes Michael G. Lemish, author of War Dogs. Even women led packs of war dogs against the Romans at the battle of Versella, which delayed the Roman's victory. The Romans eventually adopted dogs as a military tool of their own. The Roman dogs, bred for fierceness, were encased in body armor with razor sharp spikes. Writers of the day reported that these dogs would not retreat even against men armed with swords. Later, Napoleon used dogs for protection and sentry duty by chaining them to the walls surrounding Alexandria. Europe had a long history of using dogs in various working roles. The military simply capitalized on this use.
In America, the Native Americans used dogs for sentry, pack duty and as draft animals. Early colonists relied on dogs for herding. It was Benjamin Franklin that first proposed the use of dogs as military weapons. He wrote, "Dogs should be used against the Indians. They should be large, strong and fierce." John Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, said, "You will acquaint the captains that every soldier be allowed three shillings per month who brings with him a strong dog for pursuing the savages, put this idea into action. Each dog is to be kept tied and led by his owner." Dogs were not used by Americans to the same extent as the Europeans and therefore were not organized by our early military into any type of working canine units. This lack of central organization in part, led to the lack of success of canine military units well into the 20th century.
|A well camouflaged marine and his dog, Soloman Islands, World War II. c/o AP|
Dogs were employed during World War I by European armies for ambulatory assistance, messenger service, sentry duty and as scouts. The Red Cross dogs were by far the most organized and successful canine unit. The dogs carried medical supplies and canteens to wounded soldiers. They were trained to not recognize dead soldiers. If a soldier was found unconscious, the dogs would return to their handlers and lead them to the location of that soldier. The Red Cross dogs often worked at night and relied on their olfactory abilities to find soldiers. Canines were also used as pack animals and could carry up to 40 lbs of supplies that included water, grenades or ammunition. The war dogs successes guaranteed their use in World War II. For the Americans, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a catalyst to the American military to investigate the utilization of canines as a military tool.
At the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S Army library contained only one book about dogs - a field manual for canines in arctic regions. The bombing of Pearl Harbor mobilized some American civilians to contact the U.S. Military. Dog breeders, trainers and the director of the American Kennel Club were well aware of the use of canines by the Europeans. They formed the Dogs for Defense (DFD) to band together volunteer amateurs and professional dog handlers and breeders. They assumed the military would jump at their offers for dogs as offensive military aides, but the military didn't. It was with the help of actress Helen Menken, coupled with the increased U.S. activity in the war effort, that prompted the army to take another look at the DFD. After a slow start, the U.S.Secretary of War ordered that the dogs be trained for sentry duty, search and rescue, patrol and messenger service. With the DFD as the dog recruitment agency, organized war dog training centers were soon established.
|"A mine dog licensing test can be compared to a driver's license test. Its purpose is to provide confidence in a basic capability to detect mines and tripwires. I have learned that testing and licensing has a positive side effect since the overall quality of the work seems to improve significantly." Harvard Bach, GICHD|
Through trial and error the U.S. dog operation had varying successes through the 1950s. It was during the Vietnam War that canine use went to the next level of utilization. The Air Force studied the practicality of using dogs in the temperate climate of Southeast Asia, combining a sentry/scout dog, finding the best breed to use, and developing an in-country breeding program. The initial problems were getting the South Vietnamese handlers to accept these working dogs. Because of a lack of centralized structure, intermittent use among all the military branches, and a lack of careful obedience and tactical training, the successes were coupled with problems and failures. Lemish attributes this to the lack of a centralized program like the DFD in WWII, the treatment of dogs by the military as superfluous equipment, and the inability to demilitarize war dogs.
A common thread among both European and American forces was the concept that a good dog handler can capitalize on the assets a well- trained dog can bring with it to a military endeavor. The best dog handler was considered a soldier that could scout and patrol on his own and use a dog as an extension of his own talents. The foundation philosophy is that canines are one of numerous military tools and when combined with other instruments, can get the job done. These could be the very philosophies the humanitarian demining HD community may need to adopt to successfully integrate MDDs into operations.
|Two Russian soldiers
try to seperate their dogs.
As with other mine clearance technologies, dogs are not a replacement for deminers and metal detectors. Rather, they can be an additional mine clearing asset to a demining program. Author Rae McGrath in his book Landmines and Unexploded Ordnance feels that MDDs are most effective in well-defined clearance operations and that they "can work more quickly than normal clearance teams, such as road and track sections containing widely spaced mines." McGrath also notes that they are a valuable asset in battlefield areas with high metal content. They can speed up the detection process because they recognize explosive scent rather than metal. In contrast, Havard Bach, Senior Liason Officer of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining(GICHD) feels dogs should not be used to verify individual mines, but to verify the boundaries of a mine field. Eddie Banks, director of BiH supports this saying, "A dog is a location tool. If you already know where the mines are, you do not need a dog."
There have been many challenges in effectively integrating MDDs into humanitarian mine clearance operations. Coordination, timing, cost, availability and mismanagement have all been cited as reasons that dogs have not been effectively integrated. Extensive training requirements of dogs, handlers and demining management is needed for a program to start successfully. Bach says that coordination, timing, and determining the best deployment scenario for dogs are also factors. Banks adds to this, "There are two major problems, we cannot prove how effective a dog is and many managers, at all levels, do not understand the advantages and limitations of dog teams." He feels a major deterrent to successful deployment of MDD's is that many experts in this field have no relevant, practical experience using dogs in a humanitarian clearance role. "We need to train the managers, both internationals and nationals, in order that we can manage these and other aspects professionally and effectively. The challenge is to get all levels of management, handlers, team leaders, monitors and inspectors to understand how to effectively use this tool." Banks feels that what an organization needs to be successful is the understanding of the dog's capability and the understanding of how to manage the dogs and the demining operation effectively. "Good organizations are based on sound management, employ appropriately qualified and trained personnel with suitable personalities, and adopt an open minded, flexible attitude that promotes effective clearance to high standards of safety and quality," states Banks.
|“If you are using a dog you are using it as a primary detector. Based on my experience, managed properly, a dog is a more effective than a human being and most metal detectors in the detection role. However, dogs have limitations, therefore the combination of deminers and dogs can be most effective. Even in the quality control role a dog is being used to confirm that an area is clear.” - Eddie Banks BiH|
Successful integration of MDDs can be achievd through an edffective training, purchasing and management program and by identifying the dogs' strengths and weaknesses and deploying them effectively. Coupled with a humanitarian demining management system that can integrate varied assets effectively, this can result in effective dog deployment in the mine field.
The MDD field has grown in step with humanitarian demining. With all levels of failure and success, the industry has seen a jump in the last ten years from a handful of MDD organizations to over 25 organizations utilizing mine dogs. Very few NGOs are currently involved in MDD operations though HALO, Norwegian People's Aid and Handicap International have all used mine dogs. Many commercial companies have proven to be serious promoters off MDD endeavors. The national dog program in Afghanistan has been very successful with more than 130 dogs and handlers operating in the field. Bach feels if the aim is to run a short-term operation, expatriate specialists should be brought in to the country. If the operation is long- term, local handlers must be trained.
|A dog and his handler on patrol in the South Vietnamese jungle.|
In general, dogs are more effective in environmental conditions that include a degree of soil moisture, which increases the transportation of scents from the ground to air. Dogs usually work better in the morning when there is still dew on the ground. As the air heats up, the hot air rises along with the target scent, making it more difficult to detect. It stands to reason that dogs are less effective in extreme weather conditions-be it snow, heavy rains and high winds. These conditions all displace scent. While a dog with good scenting capabilities is needed, dogs must also possess a good hunting instinct. Whether dogs should be bred, indigenous or trained has been widely discussed. Benefits and drawbacks to all methods have been identified and debated. With large-scale organizations it could be advantageous to breed dogs for mine detection. Smaller organizations are better off purchasing trained dogs or training indigenous dogs. The GICHD is currently implementing a study to see which dog breeds are most suitable for mine detection. Most organizations assess individual dogs' capabilities and proceed from there. It can be considered a given that choosing suitable dogs and handlers that meet training and operational needs is essential. "Thereafter, it is all about initial selection, professional training, selection and training of good handlers, a good bonding process and ensuring continuation of training," states Banks.
|“I believe that MDDs will become more credible and less costly in the future. The latter due to more experience/documentation and less training failures.” - Bach|
" I believe that MDD will become more credible and less costly in the future. The latter due to more experience/documentation and less training failures. We will have a better understanding of the potential for and the limitations to mine dog detection. We will also be able to integrate mine dogs into a combined demining approach in a better way then we currently do," states Bach. Banks agrees with these sentiments. "If we can improve management of demining, including the husbandry and operational capabilities of MDDs, then I feel we could change current procedures in order that dogs could be used even more effectively and productively, he explains. The keys to success with these war dogs or humanitarian dogs do not lie so much with the individual dog or species in general, but with the handling by mankind.
Michael G. Lemish
Landmines and Unexploded
By Rae McGrath
2000 Pluto Press
Senior Liason Officer to U.N Mine Action Team
Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining
7 Bis, Av. De La Paix-Case Postale 1300
Geneva Switzerland CH-1211
Mine Action Advisor
BiH Commission for Demining
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina