At every scene of crime you would have noticed not only police personnel but also dogs. These dogs are an essential part of the team and help the police in their work.

Agatha's life is a tad different from that of the characters created by her namesake, the famous novelist Agatha Christie. Ever since she was six months old she has been training every day. Along with her master she takes up cases assigned to her. She relies solely on her nose to solve cases. And most importantly she will retire when she reaches 10 years of age to spend the rest of her life doing nothing but eat, sleep and play.

Training

This isn't a summary of just Agatha's life, but of all her friends at the Tamil Nadu Police Dog Squad. Started in 1952 by Krishnaswami IPS in Chennai, this dog squad is the oldest and the first in the country. Soon other districts in Tamil Nadu and states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharasthra followed suit.

The squad was started with nine dogs comprising breeds like Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher, which were mostly trained for crime/ tracking cases and narcotics detection. “It was only after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case that the bomb detection unit of the dog squad was formed,” says P. Vishwanathan, Sub-Inspector of Police, Dog Squad. “At present we have 21 dogs in our squad — 14 explosive detection dogs, six tracker dogs and one for narcotics.” Apart from these, the Tamil Nadu Dog Squad training centre at Egmore, Chennai also houses eight dogs being trained for duty at the Central jails of Puzhal, Cuddalore and Vellore. The breeds recruited for the squad are the above mentioned three breeds plus the Rottweiler. The main reason for choosing these breeds are their ability to survive in the Indian weather conditions.

“Other countries use other breeds, even the Cocker Spaniel. It just depends on the climatic conditions. But basically most breeds can be trained for the squad,” says Vishwanathan.

Star detectives

YUVARAJ, a German Shepherd, who was part of the team some 30 years ago helped nab several culprits. His photo also graced the shelves at the Dog Training centre until recently.

PRINCE, a Labrador Retriever

REX, a German Shepherd

Duty

The dog squad has three main categories:

Crime: For sniffing out evidence, trail of the culprit in theft, robbery or murder cases. The Doberman Pinschers are best suited for this category for their ability to run fast which comes in handy while chasing down the culprit. “I have seen cases where people trust the dogs more than us,” says Abhai Kumar Singh, Additional Commissioner of Police, Chennai City. “There was one particular case where the people didn't let us remove the body of the victim and demanded that the police dog be summoned before doing so.”

Narcotics: Detection of possession of illegal drugs in places, objects or on the person.

Explosives: This squad is responsible for uncovering bombs that may have been placed in different places. This could be in vehicles, packages, buildings, ground search and even on person. These dogs are used for the security of VIPs, VVIPs and their residences, Raj Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan, Secretariat, Airport, Consulates, Bus Terminus, Harbour, route checks and security at important functions like Independence Day parades. “Also, in case of certain emergency situations like the recent bomb blast outside the Delhi High Court, we step up security at our Madras High Court building and railway stations,” says Vishwanathan.

For these two functions, the Labradors and German Shepherds are best suited.

Selection

Every dog is handled by only one person throughout its career. The main handler is assisted by an assistant handler who handles the dog only in the absence of the main handler.

Handler:

Must have a good voice

Must have commanding power to be able to control the dogs.

Must be healthy and have a good physique, because being a dog handler is hard work.

Dog:

Need to look at the family line. If the parent dogs are imported

Vaccine records of parents to be checked.

If the puppy is registered with the Kennel Club of India.

After the final selection, the puppies are left with the mother for 65 to 90 days, as feeding on mother's milk is healthy for the pups.

Later, the puppies are left in the care of their handlers with whom they will bond over the next two months.

From the sixth month onwards the training gets under way.

Tamil Nadu Police Dog Squad was started in 1952 in Chennai. It is the oldest and the first in the country.