Dogs of war

Dogs of war

Saiga, a Dutch Shepherd, plunges through a bus window on to a dog trainer who is simulating a real-life criminal. True to his training, Saiga homes in on the decoy’s collarbone.

From 4ft away it certainly looks like it would hurt, despite the thickly padded bite suit that the trainer is wearing.

Meet the canine commandos—daring dogs trained to tackle some of the most dangerous situations in the world. The highly accomplished animals that come from the Wolfgrey (WG) K9 dog training academy, 60km from Bengaluru International Airport, are now being actively sought by SWAT teams, special units and the Armed Forces. One of the academy’s dogs, bought by a security agency in the US, has even been sent on a trip to the country to be stationed at Fort Knox, an army post in Kentucky.

Click here to view a slideshow on the canine commandos of the Wolfgrey K9 dog training academy.

The masterminds behind the 20-acre training facility are Masood Ahmed, 39, and Balaji Venkataraman, 35, friends and business partners who run an IT firm in Bangalore. Ahmed and Venkataraman originally hit on the idea of dog training when they couldn’t find a dog with suitable talent to watch over the coffee plantation they bought in 2003. “We were amazed that the only dogs we could get our hands on were little better than circus dogs—they could do a few tricks, sit, roll over and that sort of thing but were totally useless for the purpose of patrol. So we did some research and talked to a few vets and started devising the training programme," says Ahmed, who initially hired ex-cops with training experience.

The academy has 40 Dutch, German and Belgian Shepherd dogs who undergo a highly structured programme based on their personalities and natural traits.

In recent years, broader historical events such as the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai led to Ahmed and Venkataraman’s decision to step up the anti-terrorist “encounter"-type training.

The assessment of puppies starts when they are five weeks old, when they are given basic obedience training. When they reach 12 weeks, it is decided if they are to be trained for security work or for personal protection. Those that are not suited to the work are given away or sold as pets—none are ever put down.

An academy dog may be employed for patrolling, taking down fugitives, protection (personal and property), intervention, detection and extraction.

The dogs are fed on a strict diet that includes raw beef, dog food, chicken and rice. Keeping a trained Shepherd with a working life between seven-eight years can cost up to 6,000 per month.

Potential owners are just as rigorously assessed as the canines, with around 90% of hopefuls rejected. Wolfgrey K9 now receives requests from security agencies, both in India and abroad, for trained dogs. “We have to evaluate customers. Often, there are people looking to show off that they own a dog with special capabilities; that is not only dangerous but also against the principle of WG K9," says Ahmed.

Nick Cunard divides his time between the UK and India shooting for publications such as The Sunday Times Magazine and The Independent. His work has been exhibited at London’s Freud Museum and The Royal Academy of Arts.

Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story.