Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Russia trains ‘remote-controlled’ dogs

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent It seems that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin isn’t the only one using dogs to get the upper hand in Russia. And the United States isn’t the only country catching on to the how valuable bomb-sniffing dogs are in the field. After the bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport ...

Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

It seems that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin isn’t the only one using dogs to get the upper hand in Russia. And the United States isn’t the only country catching on to the how valuable bomb-sniffing dogs are in the field. After the bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport last January, President Dmitry Medvedev has made a big push to get more sniffer dogs on patrol — and more dogs there will be.

The Russian military is banking on what they’re calling “high-tech” bomb-sniffing dogs — an overstatement perhaps given its rudimentary function. As the BBC reports from a military base outside of Moscow, this elevated technology is really just a remote-controlled dog, consisting of little more than a walkie-talkie and small video camera strapped to the dog’s collar.

The way it works is the soldier calls commands to the dog through the walkie-talkie navigating the dog to the location of the suspected explosives. If the dog alerts — gives the signal that a bomb is at the scene — the handler commands the dog back again, and the bomb is safely detonated. When the dog needs to go into a location at a greater distance or into a building where the handler cannot follow, he watches “a video screen strapped to his wrist” from a safe distance.

The Russian army believes that remote-controlled sniffer dogs will help keep the army and the public safe.

“Dogs can detect the kind of deadly material and explosives that a human being, a robot or a mine detector often struggle to find,” says Colonel Vasily Kondratyuk, head of the 66th Military Engineers Corp, where the army’s sniffer dog centre is based. “With their help we can prevent terrorist attacks. Dogs really are man’s best friend. Because they save lives.”

The standout among the Russian canine ranks is Heinz, a big black Lab with a happy face.

“He’s the most intelligent dog we have here,” says Private Sasha, his handler. “He’s kind, obedient and very clever.”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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