INTRODUCTION

 

The author intends to inform the reader of the various Specialised Infantry Capabilities and how Regular and Reserve Force Members go through specialised training to be prepared for operational deployment.  As uniformed members we easily forget those musterings or units that demand specialised training to support the complete operational requirement to safeguard the country and its borders. In this article the author will enlighten the reader about the dog unit at SAASIC based at Potchefstroom.

 

HISTORY OF DOGS USED IN THE MILITARY ENVIRONMENT

 

The use of ’War dogs’ goes back to ancient times before Christ: the Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Britons and Romans all used dogs (Figure 1), mostly in a sentry role but sometimes taken into battle. The earliest report involved the Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians in 600 BC, when the Lydian dogs killed some invaders. In mid-7th century BC Magnesian horsemen, in a war against the Ephesians, were each accompanied by a war dog and a spear wielding attendant. The dogs were released to breach the enemy ranks, followed by a spear assault and then a cavalry charge. War dogs were often sent into battle with spiked collars and coats of mail armor.

 

Dogs were used by the Romans during invasions to hunt out local guerrillas who resisted the Roman invaders. Caesar’s invasion of Britain was opposed by Celtic warriors and their dogs in 55 BC, the English mastiff, being one of the oldest recorded breeds.  Napoleon was probably the first one to make use of the dog’s superior senses by chaining them to the walls of Alexandria using them to warn of an impending attack.

 

HISTORY OF DOG SOLDIERS IN THE SANDF

 

The South African National Defence Force has a commendable history of using dogs in various ways in the Infantry Capability.  When Dog Training School was established in 1964 at Voortrekkerhoogte, the main aim was to train dogs and their handlers in mine detection reconnaissance, tactical and security work. The unit was also responsible for acquiring suitable dogs and researching dog diseases, nutrition and breeding In the main, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and Border Collies were trained. This training started when the dogs were almost two ​years old and lasted from one to two years.

 

The dog centre was moved to Bourke's Luck, in Mpumalanga, in 1979.  By 1993 the equestrian and dog centres were formed into 12 SAI.  The unit's dogs and related infrastructure was finally transferred to the SA Military Health Service while the unit’s motorcycle and visual tracking capabilities were transferred to the Infantry School near Oudtshoorn.

 

Dog handlers were responsible to do “puppy” training to ensure that dogs were disciplined and primed for battle training as the various phases of training commenced.

 

SOUTH AFRICAN ARMY SPECIALIZED INFANTRY CAPIBILITY (SAASIC) DOG UNIT

 

Dog Soldiers Training.  The dog unit at SAASIC is based in Potchefstroom and the unit is responsible for training of dogs and dog handlers respectively.  The unit provides training in a number of dog utilisation and distinct areas:

 

The patrol dog is an integral part of a patrol being of physiological and tactical value.  Opposition Forces will be less willing to engage own force in the presence of a dog because of the animals speed thus cutting off their escape route.  It therefore becomes necessary for them to engage own forces at a distance, diminishing the accuracy of their fire.

 

 The German Sheppard breed is very popular in this domain and is used for guarding and tracking duties.  With the increasing actions of poaching illegal immigrants’ and smuggling dogs are deployed on the borders of the RSA and in the National Kruger Park.  German Shepherds are a popular selection for use as working dogs. They are especially well known for their police work, being used for tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas and detection and holding of suspects. Additionally thousands of German Shepherds have been used by the military. The German Sheppard is one of the most widely used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection and mine detection dog, among others. They are suited for these lines of work because of their keen sense of smell and their ability to work regardless of distraction.  German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now famous.  Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.

 

 The Rottweiler breed is trained to assist in guard duty at Strategic Military Assets.  In all instances the dogs are worked on leashes and were used primarily to warn the sentry of the presence of trespassers and specialised to guard with the handler of important military assets.  The Rottweiler is one of the oldest of herding breeds.  With a history possibly dating back to the Roman Empire, the Rottweiler may be a descendant of ancient Roman drover dogs; a mastiff-type dog that was a dependable, rugged dog with great intelligence and guarding instincts. iT’s a calm, confident and courageous dog with a self-assured distance that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. A Rottweiler is self-confident and responds quietly and with a wait-and-see attitude to influences in its environment.  It has an inherent desire to protect home and family, and is an intelligent dog of extreme hardness and adaptability with a strong willingness to work, making them especially suited as a companion, guardian and general all-purpose dog.

 

 Although bred for hunting, Beagles are versatile and are nowadays employed for various other roles in detection, therapy, and as family pets.  Beagles are trained and used as sniffer dogs (both explosives and drugs) as well as a tracker dog. Beagles are intelligent but, as a result of being bred for the long chase, are single-minded and determined which can make them hard to train. They can be difficult to recall once they have picked up a scent, and are easily distracted by smells around them.  With a great sense of smell and their tracking instinct, the Beagle is employed as a detection dog for prohibited agricultural imports and foodstuffs in quarantine around the world.

 

Labradors are an intelligent breed with a good work ethic and generally good temperaments. Common working roles for Labradors include: hunting, tracking and detection (they have a great sense of smell which helps when working in these areas).  Labradors are powerful and indefatigable swimmers noted for their ability to tolerate the coldest of water for extended periods of time.  Labradors' sense of smell allows them to home in on almost any scent and follow the path of its origin. They generally stay on the scent until they find it. Navies, Military Forces and Police Forces use them as detection dogs to track down smugglers, thieves, terrorists and black marketers.  The SANDF used them primarily for sniffing and tracking dogs.

 

 Belgian Shepherds do well in sports such as obedience training and dog agility. They are used as assistance and search and rescue dogs, as well as police, military and narcotics dogs.  Official breed creation occurred around 1891, when the Club du Chien de Berger Belge (Belgian Shepherd Dog Club) was formed in Brussels. The first breed standard was written in 1892, but official recognition did not happen until 1901, when the Royal Saint-Hubert Society Stud Book began registering Belgian Shepherd Dogs. By 1910, fanciers managed to eliminate the most glaring faults and standardize type and temperament.  There has been continued debate about acceptable colours and coat types. Structure, temperament and working ability have never been debated in regards to the standard. Belgian Shepherd Dogs are described as highly intelligent, alert, sensitive to everything going on around them and form very strong relationship bonds.  They are said to be loyal, intelligent, fun, highly trainable and well suited to family life.  They are used as patrol dogs in the SANDF.

 

I am a “Dog Soldier” my eyes are your eyes, to watch you and to protect you.  My ears are your ears, to hear and detect an evil mind in the dark, my nose is your nose, to scent the invader of your domain, and so you may live, my life is also yours.

OBSTACLE TRAINING

 

 

As in the case of men, a tactical or security dog cannot be expected to maintain a high level of effectiveness unless he is in peak physical condition.  This, therefore means that in addition to proper feeding and medical care the dog should be repeatedly, regularly and diligently exercised.  Obstacles are an excellent medium for such exercises.  Dogs will also in all likelihood be required to overcome obstacles during operational duty.  It is therefore necessary for the dog to learn (under orders and under control) how to overcome obstacles within his physical capabilities.

 

OBSTACLE TRAINING

 

As in the case of men, a tactical or security dog cannot be expected to maintain a high level of effectiveness unless he is in peak physical condition.  This, therefore means that in addition to proper feeding and medical care the dog should be repeatedly, regularly and diligently exercised.  Obstacles are an excellent medium for such exercises.  Dogs will also in all likelihood be required to overcome obstacles during operational duty.  It is therefore necessary for the dog to learn (under orders and under control) how to overcome obstacles within his physical capabilities.

 

Like human beings not all dogs are able to swim.  Some are scared of the water, possibly as a result of some earlier unpleasant experience.  Any reluctance to get into the water must be overcome by progressive training.  Training of such dogs must begin with a calm stretch of water with a gently sloping bed.

 

While the dog is in the water, it must be encouraged to “apport” any suitable floating objects thrown by the handler.  A gradual increase in the distance as well as the depth of the water into which the object is thrown will usually result in the dog swimming after the object without difficulty.

 

Obedience work is the benchmark for the talents of a dog trainer.  A spirited, happy, joyful and accurate performance of the dog working in unison with his master demonstrates to the high qualifications of the handler.

 

The dog training unit at SAASIC is responsible for all dog and dog handlers of the various Arms of Services.

 

 

A number of dog handlers (SA Army, SA Air Force and SA Navy) attended the dog handler’s course presented at the SAASIC Dog Unit – Potchefstroom.

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