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Sensing technology has yet to beat a dog's nose.

FRONT ROYAL, VA -- The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is increasing its reliance on K-9 teams to spot terrorists, illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. The current force of approximately 1,400 teams--each consisting of a dog and a handler--has grown by 200 over the past two years.

The reason is the sensitivity of a dog's nose, said David Sturm, an instructor here, at the CBP's Canine Enforcement Training Center (CETC). "Science hasn't come up with a sensing technology yet that beats a dog's nose," he said. "Humans smell a stew. Dogs smell the carrots, the potatoes, the meat. They break it down."

Several of agencies within the Department of Homeland Security--CBP's parent organization--have active K-9 programs. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, in September announced plans to provide explosive-detecting dogs to 10 mass-transit and commuter-rail systems around the nation.

Most of the CBP's K-9s are trained at the CETC. There are two exceptions. Members of CBP's Beagle Brigade that specialize in sniffing out illegally imported agricultural products learn their skills at the National Detector Dog Training Center in Orlando, Fla., and the Border Patrol's canines, who detect concealed aliens and drugs along the Mexican and Canadian borders, are trained at the National Canine Facility in El Paso, Texas.

All other CBP canine teams are trained in Front Royal, and CETC Director Lee T. Titus would like his facility to take on an even larger role. "We'd like to become the canine training facility for all of DHS," he told National Defense. "We're working on a paper about that right now."

CETC already is working with the canine programs of other DHS agencies, Titus said. The facility has a memorandum of agreement with the Coast Guard, he said. "We've started training their dogs. They've adopted everything we do with our explosives dogs. We're working with them to set up training aids."

Titus wants to establish similar relationships with the canine programs of the TSA, Secret Service and Federal Protection Service.

The 240-acre center--located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains--was previously a beef-cattle research center and U.S. Cavalry remount station.

The facility became a canine-training center in 1974, explained Sturm. Two decades later, it embarked upon a renovation program, adding a 100-run kennel building, small-arms firing range, vehicle training areas and classrooms.

The academic facility was completed in 2000. It includes two classrooms with removable walls, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, a gymnasium for staff and a large theater-like auditorium equipped with three interpreter booths.

The center often brings in interpreters when training foreign handlers, Sturm said. Handlers come from countries such as Brazil, China, Israel, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Dogs and their handlers--known within the agency as canine officers--are trained to search out terrorists, ferret out explosives and interdict narcotics, illegal immigrants and other contraband.

CETC began this spring to train canine teams to detect narcotics and humans who might be concealed in vehicles or shipping containers. This first class graduated in May, and the center plans to deploy additional dual-detection teams nationwide this year.

"The detection capability of these dogs is exemplary," said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. "They can screen a vehicle in seconds and perform a thorough exam in minutes, saving officers time, money and resources."

The narcotics and human-detection course lasts 13 weeks. The dogs are trained first to detect narcotics and then humans. "The dog tells the officer something is there," Sturm said. "It is up to the officer to find out what."

The dogs don't rely upon the smell of perfume, shaving lotion or tobacco to find a human, he said. "Human odor is distinct, and it is hard to cover up."

The dogs are trained to alert their handlers in a passive manner. When the dog detects the presence of drugs, explosives or humans, they sit at attention and await their reward. They are praised loudly and allowed to play with a toy fashioned from a toy fashioned from a rolled-up, terrycloth towel.

Officers actually say the word "reward," when permitting the dog to play with the towel. "We want them to recognize the word, so they'll know they're about to get a treat," Sturm said.

It's important that the dogs remain passive during the entire process, Sturm said. They are not trained as attack dogs, because many concealed humans might turn out to be harmless illegal immigrants, including women and children. Also the dogs are deployed at airports, seaports and border crossings.

The team is responsible for uncovering concealed humans and other contraband. Once that is accomplished, the suspicious individual or material is turned over to regular CBP agents or other law-enforcement officers for investigation.

Dogs are trained to distinguish a wide variety of drugs, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, said Instructor Ron Miller. Samples are placed in one set of luggage in a room lined with suitcases. Then, a handler brings in his dog. They run up and down the rows of luggage until the dog detects the sample.

Another exercise involves placing a drug sample inside an automobile and asking the dog to find it. The dog is run around the outside to the vehicle and even asked to enter it. CETC maintains two covered parking lots full of junked cars that are used in the exercise.

The explosives course lasts 15 weeks. Dogs chosen for the course specialize in explosive detection, Sturm said. "They have to detect more than 20 explosive odors," he explained. The assignment is so complex that those dogs are not asked to detect any other form of contraband. Detection.

Officials declined to identify the explosives that the dogs can recognize, noting that they don't want to give away any information that might be useful to terrorists. "We try not to give that out," Sturm said. "Let's just say it's a range of odors."

Dogs are taught to search cargo, luggage, buildings, passengers and a myriad of land and sea conveyances. Handlers are alerted when and where explosives are likely to turn up. "They get a 'red flag' from our National Targeting Center," said Paula D. Keicer, an agency spokesperson.

Earlier this year, a team conducting such a search in New York City uncovered a shipment of firearms and explosives, Titus said.

CBP uses a wide variety of dogs for its teams. In addition to the Agriculture side's Beagles, breeds include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Belgian Malinois and many mixed varieties.

The most important factor in selecting dogs for training is not its breed, officials said, but the extent of enthusiasm the dog displays in retrieving objects.

"What we're looking for is a high retrieval instinct," said Supervisory Instructor Barbara Wilson Weaber. "We test them before we accept them. If we're uncertain, we don't take them."

CETC gets its dogs from a variety of places. Many come from animal shelters, primarily in the East and Midwest. The facility also accepts dogs donated by private owners, provided they meet entrance qualifications.

In addition, the agency buys some dogs through contract vendors, paying up to $4,500 per dog.

"We're always looking for dogs--especially after 9/11," Sturm said. "We've been everywhere, from Maine to Florida, to Minnesota and Iowa. Vendors come to us, but our standards are high."

The demand for dogs is so great that CETC has initiated its own breeding program. One of CBP's predecessor agencies, the Customs Service, started the program in 1998, when it received 12 Australian detector dogs with the working bloodlines necessary for starting a breeding program.

Since then, the program has grown steadily. In June, five Labrador puppies were born at the center, for a total of 142 puppies in 21 litters. CETC's veterinary staff has kept the program going by selecting as the sire top field-trial dogs that are outside the current gene pool. In the United States, these include champion Labrador Retrievers.

All dogs considered for the breeding program are researched for pedigree and background and are either amateur or national field champions, officials explained. This background gives puppies the genetic makeup and behavioral traits necessary for high-quality detector dogs.

When dogs are brought into the canine program they spend 10 days in isolation kennels to treat any diseases they might have, such as distemper or parvo, before introducing them to other dogs, said Animal Health Technician Laurie Eyring.

The breeding program recently took as new turn when CBP and the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan worked out a deal to trade three Malinois in return for three Labs, she said.

Raising the pups takes careful planning. At the age of 10 to 12 weeks, the pups are fostered out to families. "We want to expose them to the things they should see in everyday life--homes, cars, kids," she said. The dogs are named when they are three to four weeks of age, Sturm said. Before that, although some vendors name their dogs, most of the pups are assigned numbers.

Three or four times a year, a competition is held to select names for pups, and the public is invited to participate.

Meanwhile, demand for additional canine teams continues to grow. "Look at the thousands and thousands of vehicles coming through our borders every day," Titus said. "We want to facilitate the entry of legal visitors and stop the bad guys. Dogs give us the ability to do that."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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