Explosive sniffer dogs

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Explosive detection is a highly specialised area. While the principles are the same as for drug detection, the very nature of explosives demands that searches are conducted very calmly to minimise the risk of detonation. The dog’s marking behaviour is also different. Rather than scratching the ground and barking, when it finds an explosive device the dog is taught to lie down without moving a muscle or making any sound whatsoever.

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A difficult job

Because of this, explosive sniffer dog training is much tougher and more complex, requiring the handler to properly channel the dog’s motivation and excitement. Mine detection takes that to another level still, given that mines are not only buried in the ground, they are also enclosed in a tight plastic casing, which means they emit little in the way of detectable odour.

Many of the world’s armed forces employ specialised dogs as part of mine clearing operations, as do a number of NGOs working to clear mines from former war zones, in Africa for example. The dogs may work remotely, sometimes miles away, sniffing air samples taken from a specific location captured in sealed jars marked with GPS coordinates.

Police services around the world use dogs to find explosives at airports, although their job is becoming more difficult all the time, as new forms of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are developed.

A brief look at explosive sniffer dog training

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Searches are conducted indoors and outdoors on an array of explosive substances including dynamite, semtex, TNT, formex, nitrate, fuel, RDX, smokeless propellants and tetryl.

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As with drug sniffers, explosive dog sniffer training is split into four stages, although there are some differences. Searches are conducted indoors and outdoors on an array of explosive substances including dynamite, semtex, TNT, formex, nitrate, fuel, RDX, smokeless propellants and tetryl.

The explosive is placed together with another object, usually a tube of some sort. Initially it is placed somewhere accessible in view of the dog, then somewhere inaccessible, but again in view of the dog and, in the third stage, it is hidden from the dog’s view.

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The search is conducted on the basis of hot points, corresponding to the possible locations where an explosive may be hidden, although the dog is actually looking for the tube.

Depending on the location of the charge, the dog is taught to mark its find by sitting or lying down. If the dog sits, the charge is above ground level; if it lies down, it is on or under the ground.

The dog must never bark or scratch the ground as this can cause a device to detonate, especially IEDs put together by terrorists.

The dog is taught not to get excited. The aim is to get the dog to locate the charges as part of a routine check or in response to a specific bomb threat. The handler works alone with the dog and if they detect anything, the location is evacuated and the bomb disposal team takes over.

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