Dogs of European origin have been trained by Vietnam’s border defense force to operate in combat missions like real soldiers.
Fearless and astute, these canine ‘warriors’ are able to perform operations beyond the capacity of their human counterparts.
The 24th Border Defense School based in Hanoi’s Ba Vi District is currently home to over 600 military dogs of various breeds that are trained as juveniles to perform various operations, according to Captain Tran Quoc Huong, deputy chief of the school’s first training division.
The school, administered by the Ministry of National Defense, is one of Vietnam’s largest training institutions for combat dogs.
Each dog is raised and trained by a single officer from birth to maturity, Huong said, and each officer is responsible only for their assigned ‘partner’.
“Some officers work with the same dog from their enlistment to their discharge from the military,” Huong said.
Gesturing toward his 33-kilogram German Shepherd, named ‘Be-Lit’, Lieutenant Hoang Tien Dung said it takes as long as five years to train a dog to be ready to complete real missions.
The first step, Dung said, is selecting the perfect puppy. Good shape, outstanding stamina, quick reflexes, a natural fierceness and mental stability are a must for any good combat dog.
To demonstrate Be-Lit’s skills, Dung walked him to some nearby woods where the animal was ordered to lay completely still in a bush.
The German Shepherd ignored all provocation from a dummy target, who whistled, shouted and growled at the dog to lure it from its hiding position.
On the ‘Attack!’ order from his trainer Lt. Dung, Be-Lit jumped at his target and knocked him over, then stood over the prone target and awaited further orders.
According to Lieutenant Nguyen Tai Tiep, once military dogs have been called to duty, even armed criminals can be overwhelmed by their fierceness and physical strength.
In November 2009, a drug ring involving an armed criminal gang in the northern province of Son La was busted thanks to the assistance of combat dogs trained at the school.
In order to avoid suspicion, the dogs were hidden inside baskets worn on the back of their trainers, who camouflaged themselves as members of a local ethnic minority.
“The camouflage could only work with mature and well-trained dogs, since they needed to lay completely silent inside the cramped baskets,” Tiep explained.
At 7:00 pm, the drug dealers, armed with pistols and rifles, were ambushed by the pack of military dogs after crossing a stream. Even the most hardened members of the group were frightened at the sight of the ferocious animals, and were unable to resist, Tiep said.
According to Major Nguyen Van Hung, not all dogs trained at the school are employed as combat dogs. Some are trained as sniffer dogs and used to detect illegal drugs being trafficked into Vietnam.
These dogs do not require great strength or agility, but a keen nose is essential, Hung said.
Dogs at the 24th Border Defense School enjoy nutritious meals at a cost of VND50,000 (US$2.23) per day, with occasional ‘supplements’ including baluts and milk on days involving hard training.
“Unlike other countries, military dogs in Vietnam are not ranked officers,” Captain Tran Quoc Huong said. “However, after they die, those with remarkable merits will be stuffed and mounted on the walls of our memorial rooms for later generations to remember.”
“Each stuffed dog on our wall is a proud reminder of our school’s history and an invaluable reminder for young trainers to perform their duty well in safeguarding our country’s borders,” Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Mao said.