Four-legged five a force first
A defence force graduation with a difference on Wednesday recognised the country's crack new explosive detection "troops".
Four of the first five dogs to complete the first defence force explosive detection course were on parade with their individual handlers, to mark graduating from their three-month course with flying colours.
Seven other dogs were in the first three-month training pack but failed to meet the exacting standard of sensing needed.
In contrast, the five graduates and their handlers will soon be deployed to Afghanistan or on exercise in New Zealand.
With the assistance of the New Zealand Police Dog Training Centre at Trentham, the dogs were trained to detect explosive odours, including commercial, military and homemade explosives.
In Afghanistan the dog and soldier combination will support patrols, help with property and vehicle searches and monitor camp access points.
The history of dogs and the military "goes back to when man first started fighting" Joint Forces commander Major General Dave Gawn said.
With several hundred sensors, a dog's nose was greater than any technology man could develop, he said. The defence force recognised the threat from the increased use of makeshift explosive devices.
"These dogs and their handlers will be at the vanguard of that threat, their work will be of the most dangerous.
"It's about saving lives and that is what these dogs will do," Major General Gawn said. "It was a challenging process and we did have a lot of doubts.
"I know the pride you have in graduating and the training you have will set you in very good stead but it's you as individuals, and your dogs, that will do the job," he said.
Upper Hutt Leader