Detection Dogs: A History of Reliability and Versatility

Detection dogs identify many objects and substances, including illegal drugs, firearms, explosives, accelerants, illicit currency, human remains, bodily disease, household pests, and agricultural products. In all of these areas, dogs provide a level of efficient detection that human inspectors cannot duplicate.

Canine Detection Standards

Many detection dog organizations and trainers follow the Department of Homeland Security‘s standards for canine detection training. Dogs are generally between one and three years of age and any breed, although Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds are most common. More important than the animal’s breed is its enthusiasm for training. Once trained, a dog generally works for six to eight years before retiring. Most dogs receive 600 to 800 hours of specific training and annual recertification.

History of Detection

Humans have long enjoyed a reciprocal working relationship with canines. The first official American bomb dogs came into use in the 1940s for the purpose of detecting German mines in North Africa. By 1971, the United States was training dogs to identify explosives and illegal substances, notably marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. In later years, the drug dog program was expanded to include ecstasy and methamphetamine. Governmental organizations and private companies began investigating other uses for sniffer dogs.

Crime Solution and Prevention

Working dogs help solve crimes that have already been committed and discover illegal activity while it is occurring. These dogs signal their handlers when they identify human blood, cadavers, illegal tender, smuggled currency, firearms, explosives, illicit narcotics, accelerants that indicate arson, or concealed humans. The Department of Agriculture also uses trained dogs to uncover agricultural products that carry pests or diseases across the US border. These dogs provide a valuable service to governmental agencies and police departments since they can detect even minute amounts of substances or scent trails in a highly time-efficient manner.

Disease and Allergen Alerts

Dogs may also be able to detect and alert their owners in the presence of diseases and dangerous situations. Detection dogs can be trained to identify cancer, diabetes-related health problems, seizures, heart attacks, and migraines. Sniffer dogs can also be trained to alert in the presence of toxic mold and peanuts. This type of detection dog is particularly useful for individuals with life-threatening nut allergies since peanut dust can contaminate food products in factories and packing plants in quantities indiscernible to humans.

Pest Management

Working dogs also identify pests that cause substantial damage to property, including bumblebees, termites, and bed bugs. In recent years, bed bug dogs have received a great deal of attention due to their efficient detection abilities. In 2011, the National Pest Management Association determined that the utilization of trained dogs is a best practice in bed bug management and set industry standards for the training and certification of canines. Sniffer dogs alert for bed bugs that are hidden from the human eye in a fraction of the time that it would take a team of human pest control professionals working alone. Furthermore, the ability of bed bug dogs to discern specific areas of infestation may save individuals and families both time and money.

Dogs have a long history of working in many capacities to assist humans. The ability of working canines to detect minute quantities of dangerous or illegal substances, bodily disease, and opportunistic pests in a time-efficient way makes them a natural ally for their human handlers and the citizens they serve.

Photo: Flickr

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