Tag Archives: detection

New products to help train dogs for explosive detection

The Department of Homeland Security (USA) has been conducting independent assessments and developing products to assist canine explosive teams.

An explosive detection dog in action. Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security

An explosive detection dog in action. Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security

One of the biggest challenges in the training and testing of canine teams results from the explosives materials themselves – especially new homemade explosives. Due to the potential safety risks of explosives, only specially trained federal explosive technicians can provide the material for training and testing. This not only limits training times and opportunities, but also increases the costs since the technicians must travel to a central location for multi-day training events.

Researchers have been developing a new training aid that matches the scent of explosive materials but poses no danger to the trainers, the canines or the environment. It is currently undergoing field testing within federal, state and local canine detection teams. A key objective was to for the canines to react to the non-hazardous, non-explosive training aid the same way they would actual explosive material.

“It doesn’t go boom if you drop it, hit it or light it on fire,” said Canine Program Manager, Don Roberts. “That allows teams to take the training from the very controlled environment we currently have to train in for safety reasons and put it in a real-world scenario – for example putting the odor in a cinderblock and seeing if the dog can find it. We can put this new training aid in car wheel wells, airports etc., without fear that they’ll explode.”

S&T’s partner, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, developed the new training aid, Roberts said. After a number of trials, they’re ready to transfer the technology to the Transportation Security Administration, the primary customer for the aid. The bigger news, according to Roberts, is that the product was also designed to fit first responders’ needs as well.

“The design price point and usability factor has been geared to the first responder community – state and local explosive detection dogs who don’t have the regular training support TSA has. They are the ones who really need these products,” said Roberts.

The training aids are made to be thrown away after being used. These aids can last for over eight hours and can be stored up to two years. The scent can be dissolved in water, as opposed to the previous explosive training materials, which required special handling, transport and had to be stored in a bunker.

Next steps for this program include developing a second scent for training the dogs, and licensing so that the products can be produced outside of the federal government.

Source:  Department of Homeland Security media release

Read my other blog posts about explosives detector dogs:

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How dogs are helping the northern spotted owl

Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology have found a novel use for dogs – detection of northern spotted owl pellets.  Owl pellets are regurgitated by the owls and contain fur, bones and other materials that the owl does not digest.

The traditional method of locating the owls was to undertake vocalization surveys that simulated the sounds of the northern spotted owl so that ‘real’ owls would respond.  But, as this owl has come under threat by another owl – the barred owl – researchers felt that the owls were not vocalizing out of concern that they would be found.  Barred owls are known to kill northern spotted owls.

Max, an Australian Cattle Dog, pauses after locating a northern spotted owl roosting in a tree in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Copyright Jennifer Hartman, University of Washington

Enter the detection dogs.  They find owl pellets at the base of trees where the owls are roosting.  By mapping these finds, the researchers can understand the habitats where each type of owl is thriving.

By using the dogs for detection, there was a 30% improvement in detection probability.

The information about barred and northern spotted owl populations will help forest managers who are making changes to protect the northern spotted owl.

Source:  University of Washington press release

Top 5 detection jobs for dogs

The American Kennel Club has marked the importance of working dogs by naming the top 5 detection jobs which are performed by dogs.  These jobs are:

  1. Bed bug sniffing  (best performed by breeds such as Beagles, Labrador Retrievers and Belgian Malinois)
  2. Search and rescue  – tracking missing persons, disaster rescue, etc.  (many mixed breeds perform well in this category – just ask the NZ USAR team!)  Also performed by Bloodhounds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds
  3. Explosives detection (the AKC says that Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds and Vizsla do well in this category)
  4. Cancer detection (Labrador Retrievers – again!)
  5. Allergy alert dogs (Poodles, Portuguese Water Dog and Golden Retrievers seem suited to this work)

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more of these working dogs in use in New Zealand?  (See my previous article on Deak Helton’s research – September 2011)