This year, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) will breed more than 100 dogs in order to train them to sniff out mines in the Kingdom so that the nation will no longer need to rely on importing dogs for this purpose from abroad.

CMAC director Heng Ratana said that on February 9 a mine-sniffing dog had given birth to 11 puppies at CMAC’s Technical Institute of Mine Action (TIMA) in Kampong Chhnang province.

“So far we have seven or eight litters of puppies. Some of the litters have six puppies, some more than 10. We have over 40 puppies born already and there are still another seven or eight more litters on the way,” Ratana said.

Heng Ratana said CMAC was proud of the breeding programme, which the centre researched and designed independently without help from abroad.

A successful breeding programme in Cambodia would mean the centre would no longer have to depend on importing dogs from abroad, especially Europe, he said.

Dogs trained at CMAC are already sought after and recognised by the international community, with six dogs sold to buyers in Europe and two more to South Sudan already this year.

“We have been trying to breed them for just three years now, and we now have the capacity to create a breeding programme following our research. We will be the sole owners of this project and we’re confident we’ll suceed. So, we are very proud that we will be breeding more than 100 dogs this year,” he said.

Ratana said that previously CMAC had bred no more than five to 10 dogs per year. Now, however, their organisational capacity has increased to the point where they are ready to breed dogs in larger numbers because they now have a new younger generation of employees trained to handle canines.

CMAC director Heng Ratana holds a sniffer dog’s puppy in Kampong Chhnang province. CMAC

Ratana explains that the breeding of more than 100 dogs does not mean that all 100 dogs can be used for mine-sniffing duties. Typically only 30 to 40 dogs at most out of 100 will make the cut no matter who is breeding or training them.

“The selection process is quite tough – we need very intelligent dogs. We’re able to pick the smart dogs out at a 70-90 per cent accuracy rate, which is a source of pride for us,” he said.

According to Ratana, in demining activities dogs can replace humans to detect mines in order to minimise the risks to deminers.

He said the dogs are trained to sniff out explosive substances whereas a human will use a metal detector to try to find the metal casing around the explosives because there is not any technology that can be deployed easily in the field that will detect explosive materials.

“We are testing new technology with Japan, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Australia to develop new tools for detecting explosive substances. The tests have not been successful so far though.

“So, it remains difficult for humans to detect mines and explosives underground despite all our science and technology whereas dogs are born with the necessary equipment to do it right there in their noses,” Ratana concluded.