NEW DELHI: Canine lovers have another reason to tune into the Republic Day Parade, as a contingent of 36 dogs are to walk down Rajpath for the first time in 26 years.

The Indian army has about 1200 German Shepherds and Labradors on duty, of which 36 have been selected to take part in the Republic Day parade. The pups have been hard at work. For the last four months, the dog squad from the army’s Meerut-based Remount and Veterinary Corps centre and college, have been under intense training to prepare for the parade.

“They share the burden of operations, especially when it comes to duties like Counter Insurgency/Counter Terrorism (CI/CT). So we thought it is time they share the spotlight too," a senior army officer told India Today. One of the things the dogs are being prepped for is the noise levels on Republic Day. "We have been simulating the environment we will face at Rajpath, especially in terms of noise so that dogs do not panic or react differently." said Captain Anurag Boruah from the RVC, as quoted in India Today.

The dogs’ humans have also faced a rigorous selection process, with the parameters being quite different from the army’s usual requirements. "We need those men who can keep the dogs fully under control. Since dog behaviour is critical to the success of the show, how well the men march comes second. We have been practicing three times a day since the last four months," said Captain Boruah.

The role of canines in the Indian army has been in the spotlight recently, as Mansi, a four-year-old Labrador, and her Kashmiri master Bashir Ahmed War from the Territorial Army (TA) were in the news last August as they died while fighting a group of heavily-armed infiltrators in the high altitude area along the Line of Control (LoC) in Tangdhar sector.

All the limelight, however, has not been positive. The army and government faced a barrage of criticism after an RTI filed last year revealed that dogs, horses, mules and other animals in the service of the army were put to death after retirement. Following a Public Interest Litigation, the government had in September informed the Delhi High Court that it would come out with a policy on the issue within six months. Although a final policy has not yet adopted, the army has put a moratorium on post-retirement deaths, seeking to rehabilitate the animals in service, unless they are suffering incurable, terminal diseases and injuries. The centre in Meerut has an old age home for retired service dogs.

The participation of the 36 dogs on Republic Day follows the positive move by the Indian army, and reiterates the motto of the Corps, 'Pashu Seva Ahmakam Dharm' or service to animals is our duty.

Army dogs are often not highlighted by the Indian media, but these brave dogs and their trainers have won one Shaurya Chakra, six Sena Medals, 142 COAS Commendation Cards, six VCOAS Commendation Cards and 448 GOC-in-C Commendation Cards.

The dogs have all worked hard, with their career profile being determined by their operation performance -- which includes sniffing out explosives, locating places, fetching evidence and even chasing down suspects.

Every six months, these conscientious canines attend a refresher course to further their learning.

Their regiment is determined by army protocol, and "while in service, their transfers and postings are matters handled by none less than the army headquarters in New Delhi," says an officer.

And how are these dogs rewarded? As Captain Rishi Sharma, also from the RVC says (as quoted in India Today), "All that a dog really requires and enjoys is company, good food and time to rest and believe me, all of it awaits them post the parade. And yes, some cookies too."

Yumm. Cookies.

Here’s a video of our army dogs in action: