How dogs detect explosives

Photo courtesy of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Photo courtesy of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

A research team at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has helped determine the science behind how dogs locate explosives such as Composition C-4 (a plastic explosive used by the U.S. military). The study found the dogs react best to the actual explosive, calling into question the use of products designed to mimic the odor of C-4 for training purposes.

These findings are the culmination of a four-year contract funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

“Appropriately, dogs that are trained to find real explosives are going to find real explosives and not much else,” said John Goodpaster, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and director for the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program in the School of Science at IUPUI.

The effectiveness of trained detector dogs is well established, but the study sought to determine which chemical compounds cause a dog to recognize a particular explosive and alert to it. Previous studies have suggested that certain non-explosive chemicals emitted by Composition C-4 cause dogs to alert, and that these specific chemicals could be used as mimic substances to train the dogs in place of real explosives.

The research team discovered that the non-explosive chemicals given off by C-4 mimics also are present in a variety of everyday plastic objects. Objects tested included PVC pipes, electrical tape, movie tickets, a plastic grocery bag and plastic food wrapping. Several of the tested items emitted appreciable levels of a mimic compound recommended by some vendors for training dogs.

The second phase exposed 33 trained canines from the DOD, Department of Justice, Amtrak and other agencies to these vapors to see if the dogs would respond. The field trials demonstrated that the dogs failed to respond in any significant way to specific odor compounds found in C-4. The results indicate that if the dogs are trained on the full scent, they will only detect real explosives.

The study findings have been published in the March 2014 edition of the journal Forensic Science International.

Source:  IUPUI media release

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One response to “How dogs detect explosives

  1. Pingback: New products to help train dogs for explosive detection | DoggyMom.com

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