Rocky, a handsome young German shepherd, dives for a ball thrown across an immaculate lawn in Peshawar, Pakistan. He retrieves the ball and bounds over to his trainer, Sadhar Khan.

Within a year, this playful puppy will be risking his life on a daily basis, sniffing out mines across the border in Afghanistan, the most heavily mined country in the world.Sadhar Khan commands Rocky to return the ball - in Dutch. Like all the dogs at the Mine Detection and Dog Center, Rocky is trained to respond to commands given in Dutch even though the trainers are all Pushto- or Farsi-speakers who have never visited the Netherlands.

"Our first dogs were born in the Netherlands and initially trained in Dutch at a police dog training center in Amsterdam before coming to Pakistan," said center director Mohammed Shohab Hakimi.

The center is run by the United Nations mine clearance program and is one of five demining agencies working throughout Afghanistan. Fifty dogs - mainly German shepherds and Belgian Malonites - have been bred and are being trained at the center's kennels. The first 14 dogs who arrived in Afghanistan from the Netherlands in 1989 responded only to commands in Dutch, and the Afghan trainers have continued the tradition.

"The center started in 1989 and supported all the demining agencies in Afghanistan," Hakimi said. "But in 1995 we started our own independent agency under the United Nations and began breeding our own dogs. We started with a target in that first year to clear four million square meters (43.2 million square feet) for a 10-dog mine group, but we cleared seven million square meters (75.6 million square feet), which amounts to about 100,000 demined mines."

The agency now has 85 vehicles, 500 support personnel and more than 100 dogs operating in 20 provinces of Afghanistan, with two main offices in Kabul and Kandahar.

"When the Russians left in 1989 it is said they planted 20 million to 30 million mines, but the option figures is 10 million to 15 million," Hakimi said. "Kabul is the most heavily mined area - you can find up to 45 mines in one garden."

Each dog bred at the center spends its first year in training, the last four months being devoted to the process of demining. It's during this period that the dog is handed over to the demining partner with whom it will spend the rest of its working life.

For both man and dog, this is a special relationship upon which their lives depend.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service