|Dogs and Men|
|By Roland S. Süssmann|
The relationship between dog and man has always been a story of love and loyalty. Even if it is true that the dog has often been abused by man and used to do bad, overall and despite everything our four-legged friend enjoys the image and justified reputation of being a valuable and reliable help, who well deserves its soubriquet as man’s best friend. This is the case in Judea and Samaria, where many Jewish towns and settlements that live under the constant threat of an Arab terrorist attack are guarded by specially trained dogs. Guard dogs are certainly nothing new, but in this case they undergo a special training regime that we witnessed in Shiloh, where we were received by Avigdor Schatz, in charge of security for the Benjamin region, the area to the north of Jerusalem.
The first question is why did you decided on special breeding intended specifically for guarding the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, whereas this task is usually handled by volunteers or the army?
The two activities are effectively complementary, however, the dogs play a very special role in personal defense. To achieve this, we push training very far. Some of our dogs obviously know to attack someone attacking their master, but they are also capable of defending themselves against someone with a firearm. For example, if a terrorist is lying in ambush in a house and three armed men attack him, our dogs know that these men are on our side and they will attack the terrorist directly if he fires on our men. The dog can differentiate between the armed men. This reflects a very high level of training. At the same time, our dogs know to keep quiet when they should. Thus during an operation to dislodge a terrorist, the dogs follow the men but only get involved upon the command.
When you talk of the dog getting involved, what are you thinking of exactly?
I will give you two practical examples. Let’s imagine that a terrorist gets into a family home. Any human involvement is very risky, because the man being hunted down has nothing to lose and thinks only of wreaking havoc. Often, he fires blindly, and a stray bullet can quickly strike home. Our dogs are able to enter the house through the ground floor or the first or second floors, identify the terrorist, attack him and pin him to the ground. If the terrorist manages to escape, the dog knows exactly where to hunt him down, grasp hold and immobilize him, and seek out weapons or explosives. The second example comes from a situation in which a terrorist has taken over one of our armored school buses full of children. One of the features of these buses is that once closed they are impregnable. We have, however, arranged some access points for dogs, which have been specially trained to get into the bus and attack the terrorists. Not only do they know how and where to enter the buses, but they can immediately differentiate between the terrorist and the bus driver.
How do you train them?
We identify them from an extremely young age. They are still tiny and very sweet, and at first glance no one would believe that in two years time they will have been transformed into anti-terrorist, defense dogs. At the beginning they are given over to a family and we train them gradually, often in direct cooperation with the family in question. You have to allow about two years until a dog is completely ready to act. As you are aware, the Army has a highly specialized unit for dog training, both in anti-terrorist work and rescue in the event of natural disasters, when buildings collapse or at major terrorist outrages. We cooperate closely with the army. What’s more, our senior trainer is a former commander of the Army unit. I personally have always lived with dogs and have been involved in their training since I was very young. As far as training goes for personal defense, I took a training course at Israel’s Wingate Institute and a 6-week special, master training course in Switzerland at one of the best schools in the world, that of Hans Schlegel, an expert internationally recognized for training dogs in a very wide range of fields, including mountain rescue and of course personal protection. I was able to take the course with my own dog. Mr. Schlegel has also developed several techniques to control the difficult and special relationships between man and dog, which is particularly important in personal protection. In addition to the courses he arranges in Switzerland, he is an instructor in the USA, South Africa, Japan and Australia, in what is known as K9, which is the international acronym for the police and army dog units (a play on words for “Canine”). Total training for a dog costs about $12,000 over two years, including food, special lodging and all training costs etc.
How and when did you decide to get involved in this project?
There was a period when there were a certain number of attacks around Itamar in Samaria. This village had a defense budget, of which part was allocated to the purchase of dogs. Unfortunately, the dogs that had been trained in Europe were not up to it, and simply lived with families. We then contacted the head of security, Shlomo Miller, who was unfortunately killed by an Arab terrorist six months later, on August 13, 2004, to whom we said, “Your dogs are not properly trained. If you suspect there are terrorists in your village or round about, you leap into your car, which is certainly armored, and once you get there you start your checks. If there is indeed a terrorist, there’s a risk he’ll fire on you and then his presence will be confirmed. Wouldn’t it be more useful to train dogs who know how to root out terrorists, and if ever they are fired on and are wounded or killed, while it is serious, it is surely less dramatic than the loss of one of our own”. He immediately adopted our idea with enthusiasm. We then set up this project, and today no security officer would go out without his dog, even for the slightest check, such as whether there is a hole in the electronic fence or not, inspecting a suspicious vehicle etc. Recently a volunteer watchman was making the rounds with his dog. The dog identified a terrorist long before its handler, attacked and injured the terrorist enough to require hospitalization. Some time ago, an Arab woman, who it transpired later was mentally disturbed and not a terrorist, approached a Jewish settlement wearing an enormous coat even though there was a heat wave. A dog immediately spotted her, stopped her and placed itself so that she would not move any more. With each movement she made to try to leave, the dog threatened her. She thus remained rooted to the spot until the security forces arrived and determined that in fact she was not armed and was not hiding any explosives under coat.
The dogs you are talking about a really highly trained. How do you train a guard dog?
In many villages we have put up what we call a “wall of dogs”. These are ordinary dogs that are unable to be trained like the others but who are excellent guard dogs. These dogs are placed in kennels spaced 20-30 yards apart. When an unknown person approaches, they start barking and surround him. They can sense people from quite far off, between 100 and 400 meters. Obviously, a terrorist can kill a dog, but then he gives himself away. The presence of a large number of dogs is very dissuasive and effective. For this type of work practically every type of dog that we get from all over the world is suitable.
How many dogs do you have at the moment?
In all we have 400 dogs, but only 10 have completed the full training I have talked about.
What happens if someone throws the dogs a piece of poisoned meat. Can they detect it?
Not guard dogs, but the presence of a terrorist will be revealed immediately, because the entire chain of the “wall of dogs” will start to bark. The dog that eats that meat will unfortunately pay with its life.
You said at the beginning that the dogs live with families. How does that help advance a dog’s training in the fight against terrorism?
Before answering your question directly, I have to say that you are touching on an enormous subject, training the inhabitants in the fight against terrorism. This is definitely directly linked to the activity of the dogs, but not only. Twelve years ago, together with the Army, we set up a program to let inhabitants of towns and settlements in Judea and Samaria know exactly how to react during an attack. At the beginning it was just a matter of training volunteers to come to the aid of the local security officers. However, the training developed according to the type of attack. A few years ago, Jewish villages were attacked with firearms from outside. Then we had to counter terrorists who had succeeded in infiltrating the settlements and fired on people. Today we have to train the inhabitants to know exactly what to do when an attacker gets into a house and takes a family hostage.
How does this training take place, and do you have a specially equipped training center for this?
All the exercises are filmed, discussed and commented on, which lets the participants see several times what they did, how they reacted, what their mistakes were and what they had to improve. For seven years we have had a training center, made available by the Shiloh municipality, where we have reconstituted houses (which are in fact containers placed one on top of the other) and interiors, which for the time being are in a tent, where, using movable walls, we can simulate a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen etc. This infrastructure, which is pretty rudimentary, lets us run exercises as though under real conditions. Furthermore, the system of cameras is very useful for training the dogs, since it lets the handlers view the dogs’ reactions and ways of working. As far as the use of weapons is concerned, we train using paint-ball guns, which have the advantage that they mark the person hit and hurt him, which teaches people how to use firearms properly. It’s one thing to learn to shoot in the army, at a firing range or in general training, but it’s something else all together to know how to react when an armed terrorist is facing you just a couple of meters away.
How do you select who are suitable to take the training you offer and capable of applying all they have learnt in the event of a real attack?
In the past, the Army’s working premise was that when there was an attack, it would dispatch a crack unit or commandos to sort out the problem.. We unfortunately learnt from experience that if there is an attack we do not have the time to wait till the army arrives. So in every town and settlement we had to find a dozen or more people who could be ready and able at the drop of a hat. The moment they get a message by beeper warning that an attack is taking place, they know what to do because they know by heart the village’s lie of the land and the interior of each home. What’s more, they have undergone training like commandos and know exactly what to do and how to act, depending upon which home the terrorist has entered. You have to understand that we are not dealing with 19 year-old youngsters, but with heads of families, properly established in their jobs. These men are always available, armed and know how a citizen must act if a terrorist enters a settlement. So we had to train instructors capable of training the men who would have this responsibility in each settlement. First we have to teach them not to make mistakes, because these can be fatal for themselves or for the families taken hostage. Then there is training in actual action, which is no trifling matter. As to choosing the people, it goes like this. In each locality the security officer identifies the people he believes capable of taking on this responsibility. We make them come for an interview and to a first and possibly a second training session, which lets us assess them and see if they suit. Don’t forget that most of these men have been in the army and know what firearms are, though we also have people who have not done military training. Each person selected is assessed on his physical capabilities, his skill in combat, his acquaintance with weapons, his psychological balance etc. We have a precise assessment file on each person, which allows us to adjust the training to the people who accept this type of responsibility.
These are all working, family men. How can their commitment that this type of civil defense be compatible with these two things?
As far as work goes, matters are simple enough, since we need to arrange a rota of people who are around in the settlements during the day and those who are available in the evening and at night. It is true that certain settlements are dormitory towns, with the men working in Jerusalem or elsewhere, and there we have a problem, even though there is always a permanent security service present. As far as families are concerned, they are included in the training. You have to understand that the husbands and fathers are being called on to abandon their families at the most dangerous moment, when a terrorist has infiltrated their settlement. It is obvious that the wife will say, “I forbid you to leave”, and that the children will grasp the father’s trouser legs as he is about to leave the home.
We are currently training 40 classes. Both the training of the dogs and of the civil defense requires of everybody the very highest availability and discipline. This stems firstly from the fact that training takes place once a week from midday until midnight, and that it is highly testing both physically and psychologically. On this very point, you should know that working with dogs requires constant, absolute rigor, which cannot vary at all. Anything missed, any change leads directly to disaster and can destabilize a dog, which means that years of training can go down the drain in no time whatsoever. Moreover, the commitment to the civil defense program requires an effort, availability and vigilance at all times, without respite. That is one of the reasons we absolutely insist that instructors come from out of our own ranks, people who fully understand both the mentality and the area, and who have an exceptional military training. We also have some people who after a few years no longer have the energy to stay in the program and quit.
To sum up, I would say that our primary mission is to be able to fight inside the Jewish settlements, in full cooperation with both citizens and the army.