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More dogs in training

By 1st Lt. Kristoffer Egeberg
First published in
SFOR Informer#113, May 16, 2001

Six new dogs are training to become mine detectors for the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The SFOR project is already paying off as the first litter takes to the minefields.

Lastva - In February, SFOR handed over six mine-detecting dogs to the Armed Forces in BiH. Two handlers from each ethnicity had worked and lived together for months, training with their dogs to become qualified mine hunters. The contracted dog-specialised non-governmental organisation Canine Countermine provided the training for the Norwegian/Canadian-funded SFOR project.
As these dogs and handlers are now working in real minefields, six new dogs and handlers have started their training. This time, funded purely by Canada through SFOR.
"We are already one-third into the program. We've just done the performance test," said Brian Nelson Smith, the director of Canine Countermine.
The performance test is to confirm the bonding between the dog and handler. Good socialisation is important, as the dog will live and work with the handler for the rest of its life.
"The next stage now is to introduce the dogs to explosives. By the end of July, both dogs and handlers should be ready for the accreditation. This is done by the BiH Mine Action Centre," Smith said.
By this time the dogs will be able to pick up the scent of any mine, new or old, lying in the ground. Canine Countermine trains them, not only to detect mines by the smell of explosives, but the combination of explosives, plastic, rubber and metal.
Working together
The soon-to-be handlers have been specially selected by their army, SFOR and Canine Countermines. Not everyone is suitable to handle a dog. Tests and interviews also determine what kind of dog is best for the handler. Whilst the first litter only consisted of German Shepherds, the new trainees are mixed. German Shepherds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers are all suitable dogs, and they work well together regardless of background - just like their handlers.
"We all have become very good friends. We live together, work together and eat together. Actually, we were offered an extra house to live in during the training, but we didn't want to split up. Therefore we still live in one house," said Soldier 1st Class Vladimir Mitrovic from VRS. Two handlers from each ethnicity, six in all, work shoulder-to-shoulder for a safer BiH.

Related links:
Engineering - Mines and De-mining
SFOR at Work