Working dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds, and provide essential support for individuals and agencies alike. One particular type of working dog is the explosive detection dog. These dogs are often referred to as bomb sniffing dogs or more simply as bomb dogs, and are trained to detect a variety of explosive materials. As the threat of terrorism and other violent crimes continues to increase around the world, there’s an ongoing need for these specially trained dogs and their handlers. As a 2013 article in The Smithsonian notes, these dogs are are trained “to sniff out danger” in varied environments. Conflict zones, airports, buildings, and vehicles are among the locations where you’ll find these dogs and their handlers searching for explosive materials.
According to the AKC’s Dection Dog Task Force FAQ page, some breeds are particularly well suited to the work:
Sporting breeds are the most popular breeds used in explosive detection work. Breeds that excel at this work include Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers, German Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas and Golden Retrievers. Sporting breeds have been found to be less intimidating to the public, and their keen noses and hunting ability are easily transferred to the search for explosives. German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds are still the preferred breeds for patrol work and dual-purpose patrol/detection dogs.
You might be surprised to learn that here in the United States, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has more than a thousand trained canine teams and their handlers. That number reflects the scope of TSA’s mission and the agency’s work in the United States and with other nations around the world. Within the United States, TSA’s scope includes commercial and general aviation, mass transit systems, freight and passenger rail, highways, pipelines and ports. Around the world, TSA-trained dogs and their handlers work with international partners to strengthen global aviation security. Here’s more from TSA regarding the long and intensive training of “TSA airport dogs” and their handlers:
The dogs work in a variety of environments, including mock aircraft and airport terminals. Trainers use classical conditioning to teach the dogs to search for odors from explosive materials. After six to eight weeks of training, the dogs are paired with a handler, whom they’ll finish the course and graduate with. Roughly 90% of all canine teams graduate from the course.
If you’re wondering about the connection between the AKC and government agencies, consider this comment from AKC Board Member Dr. Carmen Battaglia, a longtime German Shepherd Dog fancier:
“AKC has always been a leader in purpose-bred, purebred dogs. And these purpose-bred, purebred dogs have the skills, ability, and breeding to produce the traits needed for detection dogs to successfully do their important jobs,” Battaglia said. “It is a natural role for AKC to assist in meeting this national need to protect our country.“