Shalaika, a detection dog created by the breeding kennel of the Russian national carrier Aeroflot, is probably the best sniffer dog in the world. The Aeroflot officials claim that their airline dog is much more effective than traditional Labradors and German Shepherds. According to them, the new dog breed Shalaika “can sniff out certain explosives which machines can’t” with 95% probability.
When the COVID-19 pandemic burst out, the breeders of this unique dog expressed their firm belief that Shalaika will be able to detect coronavirus like it already detects some other illnesses in humans.
Photo Credit: PR Aeroflot
“This is in many ways the perfect scent dog,” Yelena Batayeva, head of Aeroflot’s dog training service, told The Moscow Times newspaper. She added that Shalaikas have previously proved to be able to detect cancer, making them an “interesting solution” when it comes to sniffing out the coronavirus.
The sniffer dogs are being trained to detect the scent of the virus by smelling urine samples from patients who have tested positive.
History of Shalaika Dog Breed
Shalaika, also known as Sulimov Dog, was first introduced by Klim Sulimov, the Aeroflot’s chief breeder, who has spent more than 30 years on his breeding experiments. The new super sniffer is a jackal-dog hybrid originating from an initial cross-breed of two Lapponian Herders and two Turkmen Golden Jackals. Its parents were picked for the breeding process because of their extremely keen noses and high working abilities.
The Sulimov Dog breeding program dates back to 1975. During the process, male Jackals were fostered on a Lapponian Herder bitch in order to imprint the Jackals on dogs. These half-bred Herder-Jackals being hard to train were then bred back to Arctic dogs to produce quarter-bred hybrids.
My dogs combine the qualities of Arctic reindeer herding dogs, which can work in temperatures as low as -70C, and jackals which enjoy the heat up to +40C, - Sulimov says. According to the breeder, his airline dog is a "bio-detector" capable to detect even the weakly volatile substances.
Sulimov's jackal-dog hybrids were bred together for seven generations to establish the breed. To further improve trainability, other dogs were bred into the line: a Reindeer Herding Hound, a Fox Terrier, and a Spitz. The result was an easily trainable dog with a superior sense of smell.
By the end of 2018, there were bred about 50 dogs, all of them in possession of Aeroflot.
In December 2018 Aeroflot has registered the Shalaika breed of sniffer dogs with the Russian Cynological Federation. The official presentation of the airline dog took place at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport’s Terminal B and was attended by Klim Sulimov and members of the cynology community.
Height (at the withers): 15.7 - 19.7 inches (40 - 50 cm)
Weight: 26.5 - 33.1 lbs (12 - 15 kg)
Lifespan: 10 - 12 years
The new breed's name Shalaika comes from Russian words shakal (jackal) and laika (Northern Spitz-type breeds).
Say it in Russian:
For a few years, the Shalaika dogs support Aeroflot’s dog service by sniffing out explosive substances in passengers’ luggage.
Usually, airline dogs begin training at a very young age. The Aeroflot kennel uses an old Tu-154 jet as their training facility and has a special vehicle to carry the dogs around. Shalaikas are trained from puppyhood to recognize 12 components of explosives.
Building on the successes of its dog service, Aeroflot introduced olfactory monitoring – a hardware and software system that includes special gear for dogs to help identify the nature of substances they detect and transmit information to an operator’s computer.
Aeroflot’s dog service is a regular award-winner. In December 2018, the airline became the first transportation company to win the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering category at the Innovation Time Awards for its international prize-winning “Aeroflot. Sulimov Dogs” project. The airline’s “Sulimov Dogs” Facebook project also took the awards for Travel and Tourism, Digital Media Relations and Community Engagement at the IPRA Golden World Awards.
According to Aeroflot officials, the creation of a super sniffer dog became a necessity because of the rise of terrorism. Many airlines have already expressed their interest in the Shalaika dog breed, and Aeroflot was planning to market them worldwide at the price of $ 5,000 each. There's also an agreement to loan airline dogs to other Russian carriers and Moscow airports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new challenge for Shalaika and its breeders. On August 5, 2021, Klim Sulimov, the creator of this unique dog breed has tragically died from the Coronavirus infection.
By that time, already 15 dogs were trained to detect the deadly virus.