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TSA Dogs & Aviation Security

National Explosives Detection Canine Team

What role do the dogs play in transportation security?

The TSA National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program is an effective, flexible tool used to detect explosives and deter terrorism in aviation, mass transit and cargo environments. Our teams are a mobile form of explosive detection that can be utilized in all areas of the transportation environment. There are hundreds of teams deployed nationwide based on current threats and a risk analysis. They can be deployed anywhere in the transportation system in minutes and are extremely accurate.

When are the dogs called into action?

Photo of a canine with his handler

There is a wide variety of scenarios that our teams are used in to include all the areas stated above, as well as any situations where specific threats involving explosives have been made. In addition to our duties at the airport, we work jointly with other federal agencies such as the Department of State and the Secret Service to search motorcades and political arenas for high profile political figures from around the world.

Our teams have been utilized to clear sports arenas, schools, office buildings as well as all areas of the airport environment. Once again the bomb dog's mobility and ability to identify the source of an explosive odor are critical elements in its operational use.

How is the dog trained to find explosives?

The dogs are initially trained by the TSA Support Branch co-located at Lackland Air Force Base Texas through a conditioning model called "operant conditioning." This model is reward based where the dog is trained to "indicate or respond" to the location of an explosive odor. When the dog responds correctly, it is given a reward that is of great value to the dog, such as a ball, kong, food or toy. The dog actually determines which reward it will receive. This association of explosive odor and reward (for correct responses) is done on a continual basis for hundreds of repetitions until the dog learns "the game".

What is the dog looking for?

Our dogs are looking for a variety of explosive odors that they have been trained to detect. Once the dog identifies the explosive odor, it responds accordingly. Recent scientific studies have indicated that the dog actually uses a "bouquet" of several different components of the explosive to make this determination.

What does the dog do when he finds something?

Our dogs respond in a "passive" manner. When they identify the strongest concentration of explosive odor, they sit at that location.

What is a reward given to the dogs for their efforts?

Our dogs receive a ball/kong/toy/food for identifying the correct location of an explosive and/or training device. In addition, the dog receives physical and verbal praise for it's successful find. To the dog, detection work is merely a game of hide and seek. When the dog successfully finds the object (explosive odor) it is looking for, it receives a reward for its efforts.

Latest revision: 16 December 2012