Is it easy to be a detection dog?
Nikа is missing work today. The 11-year-old dog feels unwell, in the morning she met her master gloomily, her ears folded down. Andrey had to give the ageing dog a day off. Meanwhile, Nika’s ‘granddaughter’, ten-month Gera is ready to serve day and night. Peeping out of her open-air cage in the premises of Vitebsk customs, the German shepherd is hoping that the reporter will pay attention to her, such a charming animal. Andrey Zinevich, dog handler, takes her leash. As soon as the cage door is opened, Gera stands on the master putting her paws on his shoulders. A brisk beauty, the size of a man, she does not look as a ‘child’ as the customs officer calls her affectionately. Am I expected to perform my duties? No problem! Gera is willingly examining one car after another.
“One of the banal questions that laypersons usually ask is if we feed detection dogs with drugs or inject drugs in them when training them,” the dog handler says. “It always makes us professionals smile. Our dogs do not work in the conventional sense of the word. They play, just looking for their favorite ball that may have the smell of one of the seven main types of drugs. Gera has long understood what she must do. In fact, training sniffer dogs is a very serious, time-consuming and challenging job. The learning process begins almost from birth. Heredity is very important for success. Andrey says that his favorite Nika has helped to investigate dozens of crimes. Despite that she is already a ‘retiree’ (detection dogs are best during the first eight years of their life), this German shepherd is more efficient than some younger dogs. The militia and KGB eagerly employ Nika for search and investigation operations. A couple of months ago Nika who is specialized in drug detection found illegal substances in a flat in one of the towns in Vitebsk region.
Customs officers highly esteem Nika and support her together with another dog, Gloria, trained by dog handler Alexey Shulga. The customs pays for food, collars, balls, combs, shampoos, and other, as they say here, ‘ammunition’. So far Gera has not been enrolled as a member of the customs and she is completing her beginner’s course. In spring the new recruit will take an exam for international training system certificate. This is just the first out of three levels already passed by Gera’s ‘granny’ Nika and search dog Gloria who, if translate into the human language, has higher education. Together with her master the German shepherd was trained at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ and Frontier Service’s dog training centres, she was used in patrol and in escort, searched for people, took part in arrests, and precisely identified the location of spent cartridges. To cut the story short, this dog is a universal soldier.
“Can you recollect any funny cases that happened in your practice?” I asked the dog handler.
The officers look at each other and laugh, recollecting the same event. It happened near Brest when customs officers examined a tourist bus on the road. A detection dog carefully sniffed the tourists ending up with stealing a smoked chicken from one of the passengers and running away with it. Sometimes dogs behave as humans...
“Have you ever dealt with absolutely untrainable dogs?’
Andrey nods. When he served at the Ministry of Defence dog training centre, the young soldier was told to train an adult Giant Schnauzer named Stella. A gentle creature had to be brought up as a fierce guard dog. The very first week of training showed that Stella did not fit for that service.
“She was very well mannered and pious believing that all the people were friends. Eventually I taught her biting, but whenever she bit someone, it was a play. After all, the good-natured lady Stella was sent off to a family, and I started to train Caucasian sheep-dogs,” says Andrey.
Dog handlers have repeatedly emphasized that dogs are great investigators that cannot be bribed or deceived. Vitebsk customs has nine detection dogs each of which used to find contraband, drugs and weapons many a time.