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Brazilian Air Force Dogs Help Security Forces Sniff Out Drugs, Explosives, Weapons

Brazilian Air Force Dogs Help Security Forces Sniff Out Drugs, Explosives, Weapons

By Dialogo
August 21, 2015

I THINK SO Nations around the world need to unite for one goal, to sow peace in the world and eradicate hunger and poverty. All service members are true heroes. I greatly admire them. I am very proud to be in the Brazilian Army Reserves, and it's very important to know that this military information reaches all Brazilians.

Sniffing dogs led by highly trained service members in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) are helping security forces find drugs, explosives, and illegal weapons.

With their human handlers, the canine members of the War Dog Platoons conduct surveillance for FAB units deployed throughout the country in joint operations with agencies like the Federal Revenue Service (RF) and the Federal Police (PF), and at international events, such as the 2014 World Cup. They will also conduct security operations for the upcoming Rio Olympics, which are scheduled to begin August 5, 2016.

“We will be at the 2016 Olympics. We are already training the personnel,” said First Lieutenant and veterinarian Paulo Lima Borges, commanding officer of the War Dogs Platoon with the Special Aeronautics Infantry Battalion in Brasília (Binfae-BR), under the Sixth Regional Air Command (VI Comar).

Fifteen FAB battalions in 12 states and the Federal District have War Dog Platoons, which include a total of 133 dogs and 93 handlers. Overall, 33 canines detect drugs; eight find material weapons; and eight locate explosives. Another 58 dogs are trained to guard and protect; 15 are assigned to disturbance control and containment; six control birds at airports; four are deployed in search and capture missions; and one is used in search and rescue operations.

Intensive training for handlers and dogs

Military handlers and their dogs undergo comprehensive training before working together in the field.

In March and April, First Lt. Borges coordinated a course for handlers and dogs that focused on the detection of drugs, weapons, and ammunition. The training program at Binfae-BR began with 17 students, 13 of whom were from the FAB, one from the Brazilian Army (EB), two from the Civilian Police Special Operations Department of the Federal District (DF), and one from the DF Penitentiary System.

After two months of theoretical and practical classes, 14 participants - 11 from the FAB, two from the Civilian Police and one from the EB - achieved the status of handler, and seven Malinois dogs passed the tests to join the War Dogs Platoon of the Aeronautics Battalion at the capital.

“The course has already served to train the staff who will be able to take part in the mission in Rio de Janeiro,” First Lt. Borges said, adding that training must be repeated every two years.

The dogs and handlers trained by the FAB can now be deployed to conduct security operations during the 2016 Rio Olympics (August 5-21) and Paralympic Games (September 7-18).

Military dogs deployed on security missions

The Military dogs have helped Soldiers during security operations.

For example, at the 2014 World Cup, the Binfae-BR War Dog Platoon was deployed for 22 days in Cuiabá, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso and a host to several games. The Platoon cooperated with the PF to detect weapons, drugs, and munitions as flights arrived and departed from the Marshall Rondon International Airport, in Várzea Grande, 10 kilometers from the capital.

FAB battalions and canine units operate nationwide.

For example, War Dog Platoons at Binfae-Manaus (state of Amazonas) and Boa Vista (state of Roraima), in northern Brazil, engage in security missions and in joint operations with the Federal Revenue Service and the Federal Civilian Police. In Rio de Janeiro, the Binfae unit in Galeão (Binfae-GL), which consists of 13 dogs and five handlers and is commanded by Second Lieutenant Maria Clara da Silva Negreiros Botelho, is the only battalion in the capital of Rio de Janeiro with a kennel.

The goal is to train more service members to work with the dogs so the ratio is one handler per animal.

“This will reinforce our structure if we need to operate at the Olympics,” Second Lt. Maria Clara said.

Located next to the Tom Jobim International Airport, the Binfae unit supports operations for the Federal Revenue Service aimed at departing passengers or transporting cargo.

“This has become routine. We are being called upon again. I can get the location for a new mission at any time,” Second Lt. Maria Clara said.

Training begins in the puppy stage

Worldwide, many Military units and police departments work with the Malinois breed, which is also known as the Belgian Shepherd, a type of dog which the FAB frequently requests.

Dogs begin Platoon training when they are puppies, 24 hours after they are born.

“I would say that training begins even before that, in choosing the father and mother,” First Lt. Borges said. “The chances of striking gold (having a dog that can successfully pass the tests) is much greater.”

About 40 percent of the dogs pass the tests required to join an FAB Platoon, where they can serve until they reach the age of 12. As they get older, dogs experience drying mucous in their noses, which reduces their sniffing capabilities. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to six million for humans, meaning dogs have a sense of smell up to 100,000 times greater than that of humans.

The most important part of training is association, also known as imprinting, which consists of making the dog understand that it needs to detect an odor of drugs, weapons, or ammunition. This training begins when the dog is 6 weeks to 4 months old.

In the next phase, the animal develops its muscle mass and its instinct of possession over objects, which will later be relevant in real searches for drugs and weapons (sniffing), or during other applications, such as crowd control and rescues.

To be accepted into the course, the handler candidates must pass a rigorous background check and have a suitable profile to deal with dogs.

Military dogs and handlers work as a team

At the conclusion of two months of training, in April, Federal District Civilian Police officer Roberto Cláudio Castro de Moura of the Special Operations Division highlighted that one of the requirements is to establish a rapport with the dog.

“It is necessary to enjoy and get along with the puppy and understand its behavior and body language, which can indicate a suspicious situation,” he said.

Moura, 46, is the deputy chief of the section that will launch the DF Civilian Police force’s first canine unit in 2016, which will consist of 10 animals and include Malinois and German Shepherds.

“The demand to put a stop to drug-related violence is increasing, and canines are a most efficient tool,” Officer Moura said. “When we begin to use them, it will be a warning to traffickers. Police in countries like the United States, Mexico, and Colombia already use them on a large scale. We will begin here, and later show the results, and that will make the government realize that we need to train more handlers.”

Wolverine and Shaik, two Military Malinois in the Binfae-BR platoon that participated in World Cup operations in Cuiabá, should be on the team for Rio 2016.

“Both are quite experienced, mature, and very confident,” First Lt. Borges said. “The biggest task is training the canine to take action in any situation, in a confined space or with baggage on aircraft with a turbine engine. Wolverine is one of just a few that can perform under those conditions without batting an eye.”

Additionally, the dogs in FAB platoons are trained to differentiate among up to 40 substances; the canines learn to detect drugs hidden even in blind spots since scent molecules from drugs pass through metal and can be perceived by a dog’s powerful sense of smell.

“We are at war,” First Lt. Borges said. “Traffickers are developing on their side, and we on ours. The error, when it happens, lies with the handler and not the canine.”