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Rwanda National Police

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Inside the Canine Brigade: The lifestyle of Police service dogs

They’ve been spotted in public, sometimes at national events sniffing around or being transported from one place to another. For anyone who hasn’t got close enough to these Police service dogs, you may have a lot of unanswered questions concerning what they do and how they do it.

 Are they harmful? Do they have the ability to sniff and find drugs and explosives? How do they do it? How are they trained? How much do they eat in a day? These are some of the questions anyone would ask about the sniffer dogs.

The story behind these dogs and what they can do may seem like a myth but it’s a reality and an incredible one.

“When Rwanda National Police came into existence in the year 2000, one of the units that were much needed due to the level of crime, was the canine brigade, which was established at the time. Due to the services canine provide in crime detection and prevention, the institution was determined to have the brigade in place irrespective of the high demands it required to be up and performing,” says Senior Superintendent (SSP) Innocent Semigabo, the commanding officer of RNP’s Canine Brigade.

“We started with only two sniffer dogs detecting narcotic drugs and explosives, and three specialized police officers.”

Today, Rwanda National Police runs a fully fledged dog regiment with ambitions of their services to all corners of the country.      

With regards to the need for the dog, Semigabo pointed out that as communities around the world develop, the more crimes increase while criminals come up with new skills to attempt beat the security system.

“This explains the demand for sniffer dogs; it has been proven that it’s impossible to beat a sniffer dog however much someone may try to hide drugs or explosives. Experts have equated the search and finding capacity of one dog to that of 50 trained personnel,” he said.

Dog Training

Police has three dog breeds; the German shepherd, the English springer spaniel and the Labrador retriever. Each of these breed have their advantages that are based on either size or speed. All these detect drugs and explosives.

Whenever police acquire a new dog, it’s immediately put under intense general training to identify which area of expertise the dog can be good at.

If the dog passes the first training, it moves on level two of obedience which is followed by a joint training with its handler.

“Every dog has to pass with at 90% score of the training; we have discharged dogs that have failed the training and returned them to the owners for an exchange. We cannot take risks in this exercises that’s why we go with the most qualified dogs,” said Semigabo.

The training with its handler also called “The Dog Team” is to ensure that the dog never separates from its handler.

“In an event a handler leaves the unit, we take the dog back on training and get it a new handler. Same applies to promotions, if the handler gets a promotion, the dog’s status and ratings moves up as well,” said the commanding officer.

Majority of the dogs are deployed at the airport where they have facilitated in intercepting drug traffickers including those carrying extremely noxious drugs like cocaine.

Supporting local dog farms

According to SSP Semigabo, while establishing a well desired canine brigade, Rwandans are also considered and given priority if they have the dog breeds required.

“We have so far acquired eleven sniffer dogs from a local farm (Rosacal situated in Rusoro, Gasabo District) owned by a Rwandan. This is in line with supporting local farms.”

A service dog’s lifestyle

The dogs are well taken care of. Highly skilled specialists are deployed and charged with cooking, feeding, cleaning and maintaining the kennels.

Each dog eats 250grams of highly nutritious food in a day. There are also veterinary doctors that examine them every day.

“We don’t wait for them to fall sick so that we treat them; we instead have doctors who are particularly charged with checking them frequently and make recommendation reports,” he says.

Besides their health, officers also check the dogs’ sanity every morning by examining their behaviors and subjecting them to a two-hour training on daily basis.


 “The canine unit is being expanded as it is seen as a major and effective support to police work. We are in the expansion process to extend it to all borders and provinces, so that we are able to serve all Rwandans.”

“We are in the process of acquiring more 28 dogs, also to be trained and supplied by a local supplier.”

Sniffer dogs have been instrumental in Police targeted operations, especially against narcotic drugs seized in different parts of the country.

Recently, sniffer dogs led to the interception of sacks of cannabis in Kirehe District, after they led the handlers to the house where they were hidden.