In dogged pursuit

Snoopy,a 21-month-old cocker spaniel,is the latest addition to the CISF dog squad,checking out Delhi airport for suspect objects

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Published: March 31, 2013 2:19 am

The clock ticks. Six am. Snoopy is already in the training compound taking her first stroll. As her “handler”,Manikanta Swamy,holds out his hands,Snoopy follows at a brisk pace staring at those distant palms. When he playfully brings his hands closer,she jumps,expectantly.

The 21-month-old is a cocker spaniel and a battle-hardened soldier with stints in the Army,BSF and CISF. Currently,she works for aircraft security at the Indira Gandhi International Airport,Delhi.

Snoopy is the only cocker spaniel in CISF’s 16-member dog squad. Swamy has trained her to sniff out explosives and other potentially dangerous material. “She is 80 per cent more effective in finding explosives than any equipment,” he says.

The daily morning session involves Snoopy walking for half an hour,then running for another half,apart from a physical training regimen. She also has to pass her obedience training with Swamy issuing a series of instructions.

It has been eight months now that the two have been together. “I have trained her since she was six months old. She only responded to gestures at first,” Swamy says.

Between 8 and 8.30 am,Snoopy has to clear more tests—an endurance test,agility test,physical fitness test and an obedience test. Before her breakfast—milk and bread—Snoopy is also given commercially available explosives to sniff every morning. At 9 am,Swamy and she sit down for the well-deserved breakfast after which they rest until noon.

There are no days off in Snoopy’s routine.

Swamy has been training dogs for four years now. He says that language training is an important part of the job and that is what they usually begin with. “We try training the dog in two languages,English and Hindi,and see which one it picks up faster.” Snoopy is more comfortable with English.

After noon,Snoopy walks around the general airport area,her eyes darting about,sniffing flower pots,trash cans and unidentified baggage. She is called to the aircraft only when there is a threat perception or a call. “She is small,so can make her way under the seats,” says Swamy.

Traditionally,Labradors and German Shepherds were used in security operations but,in the last two years,a few spaniels have made the cut. Experts believe that spaniels are friendlier dogs,and their size and agility work well.

After every four hours of work,Snoopy rests for 24 hours. Snoopy retires for the night after evening games and a dinner of chicken.

The handlers also attend classes in the evening—more training,tips to improve their relationships with their dogs.

Every dog has a ten-year tenure,so a handler might train a few dogs in his time,but a dog keeps one partner throughout. The dogs are later “weeded out” or retired and then auctioned off.

Is it difficult moving on? “It is,but we have rules to follow,” Swamy shrugs.

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