Unfortunately, we live in a world where people still build bombs to kill and maim. Dogs have traditionally been trained to detect explosive devices by learning to detect specific odours and then to signal their handler.
The process of training a bomb detection dog is slow because the dog is trained to identify each scent individually. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, homemade devices are made using mixtures of explosives.
With a grant from the Office of Naval Research, researchers at the University of Lincoln (UK) will investigate whether explosive detection dogs are capable of learning by categorisation, a cognitive process that is thought to play a major role in the way humans and animals naturally process new information.
The study will explore whether dogs can be trained to recognise the significance of a group of odours, rather than having to learn each scent individually.
Researcher Helen Zulch says, “In this study we will be testing whether a dog can be taught a general rule for a group of odours and then apply that knowledge to a new situation, involving scents it has never encountered. We know dogs can categorise visual stimuli, so the aim of this study is to find out whether dogs are able to categorise odours in a similar manner.”
If successful, the research will underpin new training approaches that will accelerate the process of training detector dogs.