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The Life Of A Bomb-sniffing Dog

They are every day heroes that often get overlooked. Sure, we respect, appreciate, and admire people who keep us safe like police officers and fire fighters, but what about their dogs? Members of K-9 units who are trained to seek out explosives with their noses help keep us safe in airports, schools, and other public locations. Police and security dogs play a vital role in protecting us and it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to train and work with such a dog. So, what do these dogs do and how did they get to be such important members of police and security forces?

Who Uses Bomb-Sniffing Dogs?

If you have flown anywhere in the last eleven years since the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001, you know how tight security is at airports. The threat of terrorist attacks has led to the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, to beef up security to unprecedented levels over the last decade. In addition to screening by TSA employees and the use of high tech scanners, the TSA also utilizes K-9 teams to find explosives. With just their noses, these dogs can detect even trace amounts of substances used in bombs.

The high-security of an airport is not the only place where these talented dogs help us, though. Local and state police forces employ bomb-sniffing dogs as well. When there is a possible bomb threat, these brave dogs and handlers comb the affected area to determine the viability of the threat.

Where Do These Dogs Come From?

Different organizations have different sources for acquiring their bomb-sniffing dogs, but in most cases, they start with puppies. According to their website, the TSA breeds, raises, and trains their own puppies to become working dogs. They say that half of all their puppies become successful working bomb dogs. Those who don't make the cut are adopted out to loving families.

Other police organizations have various ways of acquiring their working dogs. They either purchase puppies that are carefully selected from a breeder or they purchase puppies from a company that breeds, raises, and begins training of puppies. Not often enough, but occasionally, a dog may be selected from a rescue organization or shelter.

What Kinds of Dogs are Used?

Most police forces and the TSA prefer to use certain breeds of dogs whose temperaments and abilities make them good working dogs. German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois have long been used by police for various roles. As bomb-sniffing dogs, they work well because they have an excellent sense of smell, they are intelligent, and they are eager to work for their partner. Other breeds that are sometimes used include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Belgian Sheepdogs. Many people believe that police and security forces could also make use of mutts rescued from shelters, but they rarely do so.

How are They Trained?

Bomb-sniffing dogs often start out their training as puppies. The TSA has a training facility in Texas where they use volunteer families to foster the puppies. These families begin the puppy's training by socializing them and giving them basic obedience. When they are old enough, the dog is paired with a human partner and begins real training. The dog learns to sniff for explosives at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They learn through a basic process called operant conditioning. This means that when the dog responds to an explosive smell, he receives a reward. Some dogs like a treat for a reward; others prefer a toy. After much repetition, the dog learns to react in a certain way to the smell of explosives. When working, the dog will react, get a reward, and his partner knows where the explosives are.