Sunday, 6 November 2011

Aspins rewrite K9 history

ASPINS, the Philippine native dogs, are finallymaking history.

Two aspins have graduated with 25 other purebred dogsfrom the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) K9 school and will be joining theroster of security dogs guarding the country’s ports against smuggled narcoticsand bombs.
CGK9 Cola

They proudly trooped to the stage with their handlers to receive their diplomasduring a ceremony honouring them at the PCG base camp in Taguig last week.
The PCG is an armed and uniformed unit attached to theDepartment of Transportation. It is tasked with securing maritime publictransport like ships and ferry boats. Detecting drugs and bombs as well assearch and rescue operations are part of its job description.

PCG dog handlers also learned water rescue, survival,swimming, scuba diving and first aid. But they first had to go through a rigidscreening process.

“We first check to see if they are animal lovers so theywould be concerned about the dog who would be their daily companion. They alsohave to be physically fit and unafraid of being bitten,” PCG Commander Allen J.Dalangin said.

But the dogs were taught only bomb and narcoticsdetection. “They are not trained to attack because that would be dangerous forthe passengers,” he clarified.
Next year, they will begin training dogs for rescue aswell as tracking human scent which is necessary in the search for survivorsduring a calamity.

The aspins, named Cola and Fiona, successfully passed alltests for the one-year Coast Guard K9 Handlers Course together with a JackRussell named Joyce, 5 Labradors, 16 Belgian Malinois, 1 German Shepherd, 2Golden Retrievers.
Though they looked friendly, not all the dogs can behugged and stroked, Dalangin explained. It all depends on their personalities.The Belgian Malinois, for instance, are considered the best security dogs butthey can be unpredictable and moody with strangers.
Author with CGK9 Joyce

The K9 graduates all stood at attention beside theirhandlers during the two-hour ceremony but a few decided later to skip theformalities and do what dogs do best.
One Golden Retriever stood on his hind legs as ifprodding his handler to play or seek shelter from the heat of the sun. Somedogs lay on the concrete driveway, noses on their handlers’ boots and hind legsapart.

Of the 27 graduates, 20 are bomb sniffers while 7 are trained to look forillegal drugs.
“We have a quota of producing 20% narcotics detectiondogs for every batch and we are trying to increase this to 30%,” Dalanginstated.

The bomb sniffers are chosen according to theirbehaviour, he said.
Hyperactive dogs who excitedly scratch at boxes andcontainers when they sniff something are trained for narcotics detectionbecause a bomb might go off if there is too much movement around it. For thiskind of work, dogs that can calmly sit down once they smell explosive devicesare preferred.

Cola and Fiona are the first aspins in Philippine caninehistory trained to detect bombs. Foreign breeds are traditionally used todetect explosives and illegal drugs because they are known for theirintelligence and observation skills.
As an example, Belgian Malinois Narda topped the classbecause she impressed PCG officers with her 100 percent accuracy rate innarcotics detection. “Belgian Malinois are highly intelligent, very vigilantand observant, and they have high intensity and high endurance,” LieutenantCommander Famela Aspuria, who is also Officer-in-Charge of the CG VeterinaryService, said.

The aspins were donated by civilians after they heard CGofficials announce on television that they would be accepting and adoptinglocal dogs.
PCG officers believe training native dogs would allowthem to cut their canine food budget and save on money spent in purchasingforeign breeds. The local dogs are also expected to be more adjusted totropical weather and therefore be less prone to disease.
CHK9 Fiona

The K9 school accepted 38 dogs at the 
start of thetraining program last October. Eleven dropped out of the program for variousreasons. Three Aspins, namely Pacman, Charice and Arnel, flunked this yearbecause they lacked focus and were a bit moody.

But PCG officials are giving them a second chance and thesiblings will be joining the next batch of trainees.

The three dogs, together with their siblings Manny and Pacquiao, werecatapulted into instant celebrity status last year after the PCG announced thatthey were being eyed for security work and were undergoing puppy training atthe base camp. This kind of training encourages them to go after the ball beingheld or thrown by a puppy handler.
Aspin Manny, who was about 3 months old at the time, didn’tseem to have the heart for the game. He would often escape from the puppy pento go exploring in the garden.

Manny and Pacquiao have since been adopted by Coast Guardpersonnel. Charice, Arnel and Pacman are still at the base awaiting their nextchance at training.
Their mother, Azumi, was adopted by PCG personnel twoyears ago at the Manila Harbor. The five pups inherited her short legs, stockybuild and long nose.
Azumi, meanwhile, had another litter of 7 puppies. Onedied, five were given away because they lacked “the ball drive”, and one iscurrently in the puppy training program.

The PCG has so far trained 126 regular working dogscomposed of 100 explosive detection and 26 narcotic detection canines.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")
This was published at Fit to Post The Inbox at on Oct. 19, 2011.

Also published at Vera Files website

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