Mine Detection Dogs begin training as puppies. At 18-month-old they are fully trained, and those that have been selected will be sent out on missions. Some are specialized in mine detection and are called Mine Detection Dogs (MDD) and others are specialized in other types of explosives. These are called Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD).
The breed that NPA GTC uses is called a Belgian Shepherd. It has been chosen because it weighs less and can withstand more work than for example the German Shepherd. It also has shorter fur and can tolerate heat better. Belgian Shepherds are a purer breed because they have been used more as service dogs than family dogs. Hunting instincts are naturally strong, while the dogs are controllable enough to train and work.
At the breeding and training center in Sarajevo, there are 18 employees, mainly recruited among the local employees in our mine- and explosives clearance program in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The center can breed and supply 100 approved dogs per year, in addition to train dog handlers and dog trainers. Our mine detection dogs work in different countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraq, Angola, Zimbabwe and Yemen. They ensure high productivity and cost effectiveness.
Breeding and Training center delivers quality solutions for a cost-efficient land release program, not only for NPA's clearance programmes but also for other demining operators. The center also provides specially trained labor and search dogs to governments and commercial organizations.
To build up and maintain a steady capacity of mine detection dogs requires both continuous and long-term financing. Unlike machines, dogs cannot be put away only to be revived, if or when funding is secured. Their skills must be maintained at all times.
Roadside bombs and suicide bombers are a new but real threat in many of our mission countries. Dogs are also here a useful tool. This versatility convinces us that dogs will only be an even more important tool in the years to come. We want to expand the center's operational areas and accommodate additional requests for support from both our mines and explosives clearance programs and other demining organizations.
Breeding and training of mine detection dogs is an area that is constantly changed and improved. The breeding and fitness center actively participate in international forums to learn and will continue to evaluate and develop its current practices.
Dogs are by far the most successful animal used in Mine Action and can be trained to sniff out buried mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). They are an invaluable tool in NPA mine and explosives clearance efforts.
When a dog detects a mine, it stops immediately in front of it, sits down calmly and stares at the ground. In doing so, the dog communicates to its handler that it has found a mine. The mine will then be dug out and removed, carefully and safely, prior to a controlled detonation. The handler rewards the dog by letting it play with a rubber toy ‘kong’, outside of danger area and this is the dog’s motivation. Safety, of course, is given top priority in NPA. No NPA MDD has ever been injured or killed by mines or other explosive ordnance.
Dogs are particularly useful for finding mines and ERW where it is difficult to determine where objects may be found or where mines have not been deployed systematically. They are used to delimit suspect areas from areas which are actually mined and to quality-control areas which have been cleared by machines.