Tag Archives: detector dogs

Officer Goodboy

New Zealand takes biosecurity very seriously.  That’s because our economy relies on agricultural and horticultural production and because our relative isolation from other continents has kept us free from some pests and diseases.

One of the best parts of coming home from overseas is heading into the baggage area and seeing the Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI, for short) detector dogs doing their job.  Usually Beagles, but sometimes other breeds, these dogs are focused on sniffing your bags to see if they contain any at-risk items.

Last year, MPI created a commercial using Officer Goodboy to explain the entry procedures into New Zealand.  A very good use of dogs in advertising.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

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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:

Canine remote control?

Just how far will technology take us in interacting with dogs?

Jeff Miller and David Bevly of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, have devised a system to issue cues by remote control.  They’ve published their results in an issue of the International Journal of Modelling, Identification and Control which is due out soon.

Their system provides guidance to the dog using an embedded command module with vibration and tone generation capabilities. Tests in a structured and non-structured environment show obedience accuracy up to almost 98%.

The system is designed with serious uses in mind – it’s not being designed for the lazy dog owner who doesn’t want to spend time or interact with their dog.

The team has demonstrated that a search & rescue or other working dog can be trained to respond “virtually flawlessly” to remote control tones and vibrations as if they were immediate commands from a human handler.

A detector dog in action

A detector dog in action

Directing detection dogs in areas where human handlers cannot access is one such serious application of the technology.

Source:  EurekAlert! press release

More fat and less protein for sniffing dogs

Sniffing dog checking luggage. (Credit: © Monika Wisniewska / Fotolia)

A detector dog checking luggage. (Credit: © Monika Wisniewska / Fotolia)

A study  funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, has found that detection dogs are more reliable detectors than previously thought.  The study has been conducted by Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study is the first to be conducted in the world’s only detection dog research facility designed in conjunction with a military dog trainer. The Alabama facility, which provides expert detection dogs to police and military forces, flushes out fumes between tests, ensuring a fresh field each time.

Researchers have found that the key to improving a dogs’ smelling skills through diet is achieved by limiting proteins and increasing fats.  Such a diet, the research team says, appears to help dogs return to lower body temperatures after exercise, which reduces panting and, thereby, improves sniffing.

‘Dogs tested in the new facility signaled with 90 percent and above accuracy. We also found we can push detection performance even further with the right kind of food.’ said Joseph Wakshlag, associate professor of clinical studies and chief of nutrition at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

During an 18-month period, the research team rotated 17 trained dogs through three diets: a high-end performance diet, regular adult dog food, and regular adult dog food diluted with corn oil. Measuring how different diets affected each dog, they found that dogs eating the normal diet enhanced with corn oil returned to normal body temperatures most quickly after exercise and were better able to detect smokeless powder, ammonia nitrate and TNT.

‘Corn oil has lots of polyunsaturated fats, similar to what you’d find in a lot of nuts and common grocery store seed oils,’ said Wakshlag. ‘Past data from elsewhere suggest that these polyunsaturated fats might enhance the sense of smell, and it looks like that may be true for detection dogs. It could be that fat somehow improves nose-signaling structures or reduces body temperature or both. But lowering protein also played a part in improving olfaction.’

‘If you’re a dog, digesting protein raises body temperature, so the longer your body temperature is up, the longer you keep panting, and the harder it is to smell well,’ said Wakshlag.

Source:  Cornell University media release

The Beagle

Since I have Beagles in my massage practice, I thought it would be useful to profile this medium-sized breed.

Teddy

Beagles regularly feature on the most popular breed list in the United States.    Using American Kennel Club registrations from 2011, the Beagle is the third most popular dog.

The Beagle originated in the United Kingdom where they were used as hunting dogs for rabbits and other prey animals because of their keen sense of smell and ability to track.  As a pet, owners have to watch their Beagle because he/she will easily follow its nose to track interesting smells – potentially wandering far from home.

Beagles are classified as being tri-colour (black, white and tan) or lemon (yellow) and sometimes even red or white.  An average life span is 15 years.

This breed is prone to hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, and allergies.  Some develop seizure disorders and hypothyroidism.  Regular ear cleaning is recommended because their long, floppy ears (which are very appealing) help to create an ideal environment to hold moisture and bacteria in the ear canal.

The Beagle is a hound and can be extremely vocal, so good training is needed.  Beagles are also known for their appetites and so to keep the weight off, a balanced and healthy diet is needed with careful attention paid to how much the dog is eating during the day (treats, ‘finds’ on walks, etc.)  Plenty of exercise is also needed.

Owners of Beagles tell me that since they were bred as pack dogs (for hunting), they don’t do well as a solo dog in a household.  They need companionship and can become depressed if left alone for long periods of time.  (This depression can lead to problem barking problems, too.)

Beagles are often spotted at airports, cruise ship terminals and postal depots because they are widely used as agriculture and drug detector dogs.  That’s because they can be trained to put their keen noses to good use!  I even came across this YouTube clip from the television show The Doctors where Beagles and Dachshunds are being used as detector dogs for bed bug infestations:

Sadly, because of their size and temperament, they are often used in laboratories for animal testing.  In November 2011, I covered a story about 40 laboratory Beagles who had been rescued.

Perhaps the most famous Beagle is Snoopy (the cartoon by Charles Schulz).  Snoopy was obviously a white Beagle.

If you are looking for a lively pet with minimal grooming requirements and generally a good temperament, then the Beagle may be right for you!