Raising the bar on bomb dog training
By Master Trainer Matt Skogen (September 15th, 2019)
Through the years it has become readily apparent the training of explosives detector dog teams has been more about the detection of explosives odors than the detection of realistically constructed improvised explosive devices. This has been brought to light at several recent workshops where the training objectives revolved around this very topic. Training aids were placed within additional layers of containment to better represent a realistic IED. This proved to be problematic for some teams. The lower threshold coupled with the required degree of methodical sniffing proved to be a consistent problem. The handlers quickly realized changes needed to be made in the manner they conduct training. When watching these teams it was obvious the canines were quickly scanning for “big” odor and they simply were not used to having to work seams methodically and locate smaller degrees of odor. The dogs and handlers became increasingly frustrated as the training exercise continued.
When discussing this with many of the handlers it was learned that nearly all of them consistently train with explosives that have not been used in a device in the United States in over 50 years. Many of these odors, such as dynamite, C4, and Sheet explosives, possess a very high vapor pressure and most would consider “big” odors. Many handlers also acknowledged their lack of understanding the varied thresholds and odor prominence of their training aids. The old adage, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” really came to fruition during these exercises. When the added layer of containment was added, the threshold was lowered on already low odors such as single base powder and ammonium nitrate. Boxes realistically prepared for shipping were used as well as tightly secured suitcases, back packs, and boxes within cabinets. After several days of training most of the dogs started being much more methodical and appeared to be working seams harder rather than “gambling” for big odors and working very loose as they did to begin the week.
Another training objective as it relates to canine deployments and safety revolved around the proper use of a spotter to minimize unnecessary use of the canine and to maximize the canine’s efficiency and energy. All of the teams were trained and encouraged to do a “walk-through” of search areas prior to implementing the EDD. Many areas were visually checked and eliminated from the search area, which allowed the canine team to concentrate on areas that could not be eliminated by the walk-through or use of the spotter. The prioritization of search areas was discussed and handlers created a plan on numerous scenarios before implementing the search. Most handlers in attendance regarded this training as a “game changer” and commented that it makes sense. Handlers were reminded to always consider the known facts surrounding a deployment and use proper judgement based on the information they have. A walk-through may not always be appropriate just as the use of the canine team may not always be appropriate.
All explosives detector dog handlers are encouraged to create a continually revolving list of training objectives belonging to the following categories:
We must place more emphasis on creating realistic training to better prepare us for explosives related deployments. Realistically placed hides coupled with intelligent scenario strategy will improve our chances of success and safety.