The Navy's war against drugs has gone to the dogs, including a salty German shepherd that is lowered from a helicopter to sniff out dope hidden on warships plying the Indian Ocean.

When sailors see the dog being lowered from the chopper, Navy Secretary John Lehman said, they rush to the rail and throw their drugs into the sea.

"A really effective deterrent," Lehman told Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and other top Pentagon executives at a recent meeting on high policy matters. Navy drug busters could achieve real superiority if they had more dogs, Lehman lamented.

Someone suggested a high-low mix of German shepherds and beagles. The beagles would be more cost-effective, it was argued, because they would take up less space on the helicopters flown from aircraft carriers to other ships in the battle groups spread around the world's oceans.

Dope-sniffing beagles are under consideration for sea duty, Dr. John F. Beary III, a deputy assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, assured the group.

Lehman, when asked yesterday by The Washington Post if the Pentagon cafeteria talk about the dog meeting was true, confirmed that he had told Pentagon executives that he had witnessed how effective the dope dog was proving to be on the carrier John F. Kennedy during a tour of the Indian Ocean fleet.