Pantops Pet Salon
Follow us on Facebook

Pantops Pet Salon & Spa
Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

It's what we do -- it's all we do.

(434) 293-2424
Fax: (434) 293-8231
504 Pantops Center
Charlottesville, VA 22911

…Can He Sniff Out a Bomb?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 by Jenna

How long did it take you to teach your dog to fetch? Honestly, my Springer Spaniel never learned how! Imagine the intensive training that dogs must go through to become trusted members of not only the police force, but the military as well. As early as ancient Roman times, dogs have been used in war. They were sent to bite and claw enemy soldiers while wearing sharp collars. During World War I, dogs were used to kill rats in the trenches. The use of working dogs surged in World War II when the US Military deployed more than 10,000 dogs for use as sentries, scouts, messengers, and mine detectors.

German Shepards and Belgian Malinois make excellent military dogs due to their intelligence, loyalty, athleticism and even their aggression–it is war, after all. But even the most loyal dog requires training. A typical program starts with 120 days of lessons from basic obedience to how to sniff for various substances including firearms, ammunition, explosives and even people in hiding. Army Col. David Rolfe is the director of the Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Program at Lackland Air Force base. Rolfe says the reward during this training is a ball or a rubber toy and some play time because “food works only so long. What the dog really wants you to do is play with it.” After becoming certified, the dogs must spend a month acclimating with their handlers and then must continue to be certified annually.

Dogs have a leg up on humans and machines. Staff Sgt. Andrew Mier, a military working dog trainer, explains that dogs strike fear in an aggressor in a way that humans can’t. “A dog creates a strong psychological deterrent.” The loyal heart of a dog is also a boon. It may take 50 years or more before a machine can replicate the sensitivity of a dog’s nose (a sense of smell up to 10x that of a human’s). Even then, a dog has an urge to please. Rolfe says, “a dog will go looking for something on its own where a machine won’t.”

There is no other animal that we trust in a life or death situation. But that very trust is a two-way street and I’m not sure how I feel about sending dogs into a warzone. It helps to know that the military respects their working dogs as soldiers. Work is under way for improved body armor and gas masks that can be fitted to a dog’s face. There are also pills in development that may help working dogs survive a nerve-gas attack. Temperatures can reach as high as 135 degrees in Afghanistan so cooling vests are also being made. Now there’s some clothing a dog could really use! Ray Booska, head of the company making the vests, says, “These dogs save the lives of our sons and daughters and we’re going to do everything we can to help them.”

Leave a Reply