Posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Dogs With Jobs: Bomb-Sniffing


Dogs have helped humans with countless jobs since they first became domesticated. As talented as humans are at their jobs there are still areas in which we could use some help such as in the case of our sense of smell. Dogs excel at sucking in odors due to their longer noses.  Their noses allow them to inhale more air per sniff which includes 20 to 40 times more odor receptors than humans. In this installment of Dogs with Jobs we focus on bomb detection pooches.

Dogs usually start their training when they are between 1 and 3 years old. This is when dogs are most playful and willing to learn. Dogs chosen for these jobs come from a variety of backgrounds such as shelters, families, breeders, and even from certain bomb-sniffing training facilities own breeding. When the military buys their dogs from breeders they first screen them like human recruits. They give them X-rays, exams, make sure they like to search, and won’t run at the sound of gunshots.

Training is almost learned as a one way game of fetch where the dogs are first taught to be interested in the smell of explosives. They are then rewarded with treats when they smell the objects. Trainers then begin to make the dog seek out the explosives before rewarding them and develop a pattern from there. For the dog it becomes a daily game of “find-the-explosive.” A fully trained military dog will routinely run ahead of troops, sniffing and upon smelling a bomb, sit down. Troops cease advancing as the dog will run back to them to claim its treat. The explosive device is disarmed by the right team.

For years, the use of bomb detection K-9s has been highly effective at identifying the presence of explosives. Bomb-sniffing dogs work anywhere there might be an explosive. This includes war zones, large public events such as the Olympics or New Year’s Eve in Times Square, important people’s public appearance like the president, and places where threats have been called in.

Locations you may have most likely met a dog on the job would probably be any U.S. airport, ferries, trains, and city subways. Typically they wait at security checkpoints and cargo hatches at airports and help monitor aisles in the public transit sector. Customs and border protection also employ many bomb-sniffing dogs and are very dependent on their skills. The dogs monitor for weapons and explosives that could enter the U.S. by sniffing cargo warehouses at ports as well as passengers and luggage that are arriving by ship, land, and car.

So how much does it cost to train your dog to be a bomb-sniffer? The cost of training exceeds college tuition. The TSA spends almost $220,000 in just startup costs per dog during training, then around $160,000 each year after that. The fee covers the salary of the handler, training, certification, veterinary services, kenneling and dog food.

Top Bomb-Sniffing Breeds:

  • German Shepherd
  • Malinois- Belgian Shepherd
  • Vizsla – Hungarian pointer
  • Labrador retriever

We want to give a round of appaws to all the brave dogs out there working to keep us safe!