Tucked away in the historic army barracks of Barrackpore is the West Bengal police’s elite dog training academy. On this March morning, Asha, a quick brown Indian dog, is being put through the obedience drill. She knows there are Marie Gold biscuits to be won every time she obeys her handler’s commands — sit, salute, rest and lie down. She is friskier after having jumped a specially high hurdle. But the good manners go for a toss the moment she spots a cat.
Asha knows more tricks than just scaring mangy cats. She is the first Indian breed to become a police dog, and to be trained to sniff out explosives for the West Bengal Police. In December 2017, the staff of West Bengal Police Training Academy saw a stray puppy in distress at a nearby market. They rescued the three-month-old pup, who was being harassed by local residents.
First, they wanted to keep Asha as a pet but the then Inspector-General (training) K Jayaraman wanted to see how a native breed would do. “We soon realised Asha had the nose of an expert sniffer,” says Hemanta Bandyopadhyay, deputy superintendent of West Bengal police attached with the academy. In about 18 months, Asha turned out to be one of the top dogs, as good or better than the mostly foreign pedigree breeds such as German Shepherds, Labradors and Dobermanns.
Dog-handler Soumendranath Dey, who has been associated with the profession for over 16 years, says Asha was a revelation. “She is one of the fastest and most agile dogs in her class. She can jump around 6 ft high while crossing hurdles; most others can’t manage that,” Dey says. But it wasn’t a smooth start when he started to train her. “She had trust issues. People had thrown pebbles, hot water and what not at her when she was a puppy. She was scared of humans but with love and time, we won her trust,” Dey says.
The staff at the dog training squad realised there were far more advantages in training the Indian breeds. “Adjusting to India’s humid climate is not easy for foreign breeds. They need a lot of medication initially. With Asha, there was no question of acclimatisation,” says Santosh Tiwari, officer with the Barrackpore training academy dog squad.
Her training is over but Asha is at Barrackpore, waiting for a posting. Till then, there are always treats to earn, and cats to chase halfway around the world.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘The Underdog’.