Stateís Best Friends: Bilingual Canines Sniff Out Potential Dangers
Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission from the September issue of State Magazine.
By Darlene Kirk
Ever wish that lazy pooch of yours would quit snoozing on the sofa, take some initiative and get a job, bring home some bacon and make something of himself? Some very special and talented canines, employed by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, have done just that. These four-legged "employees" are highly skilled, play an important role in our security and, yes, like many of us, are bilingual.
After years of using explosive detection dogs from other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Defense, DS created its own canine program in December 2002, attached to the Office of Domestic Operations, Uniformed Protection Division. Each canine team is comprised of a dog and a uniformed security officer trained as an explosive ordnance detection dog handler.
The dogs are selected based on their display of a strong "hunt desire" and sharpen their skills during many months of intensive training under the guidance of a kennel-master. They are then matched with a handler, and the teams undergo a month's training together. The dogs at the Department include Labradors, Belgian Malinois, part Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Shiba Inu.
A kennel in the Midwest, which trains and provides dogs for police departments
The EOD teams train for every type of explosive scenario possible. The dogs have been trained to detect odors from a wide variety of explosives. They have an extensive list of duties: sweeping all delivery trucks coming into the Harry S Truman building, conducting random sweeps of the perimeter, checking unattended packages and working off-site on DS protective details and at local hotels where dignitaries will stay. The dogs spend nearly all day working outside and are given regular breaks as recommended by the kennel and at the handler's discretion.
Every positive hit is treated as a real threat and the origin of that hit is investigated. In one instance, the duty dog flagged a truck that had been used to deliver pyrotechnics to a non-DOS facility. During a later delivery at Main State, the dog detected the lingering scent of the fireworks and alerted its handler. The origin investigation ensures that the dogs are correct in their actions and are not having false hits.
If the dogs detect any scent of explosives, they are trained to be passively alert.
Each team is required to do a minimum of eight hours of training monthly, but the Department's dog teams receive much more. They conduct daily in-service training using live and drop aids. The trainer will place a small amount of inert explosive material in an area and allow the dog to find it and be rewarded. The dogs are certified quarterly by a nationally accredited kennel. The Department also participates in interdepartmental training with other agencies in the area.
Each dog lives with its handler, who is required to keep the dog bathed, groomed, healthy and happy. They generally work a 40-hour week, rotating between assignments and rest. The teams spend so much time together that they know each other's body language, likes and dislikes -- a critical element in explosives detection.
The dogs are fed a special diet for working dogs. Most learn their commands in a foreign language. This prevents someone other than the handler from issuing commands counter to what the handler wants the dog to do.
All the dogs in the State Department program are known for their friendly dispositions. Employees often greet the dogs by name. Jasper, the black Labrador, was featured in a Department training film. Ginger, the smallest of the dogs and a rare Japanese breed, has been featured three times on Japanese TV. The dogs always are one of the most popular events at Take Your Child to Work Day.
The dogs and their handlers will continue to train and bond as they protect the
The author is a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.