Canine Detection: Why Setting Standards is
Joseph Straw, Assistant Editor of Security
Management Online, while more and more dogs are being used to sniff out explosives,
there remain no set of best
practices for selecting, training, and handling them.
At present, there is a lack of common ground between the
qualification standards set by agencies and
professional groups, including the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives; the Transportation Security Administration; the National Narcotics
Dog Detector Association; and the U.S. Police Canine Association. Therefore,
begun in 2005, with hopes for completion by the end of 2007, a group of
scientists have been busy establishing best practices and certification
The vision of the Scientific
Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG) is to
enhance the performance, reliability, and courtroom defensibility of detector
dog teams. It is also charged with recommending best approaches to the use of
detector dogs in conjunction with electronic detection devices, or so-called
Their mission is to develop consensus-based
"best-practice" guidelines that can be shared across all groups involved in
detector dog work. These guidelines will create the foundation on which more
targeted guidelines and an accreditation program can be developed. Membership in
SWGDOG includes representatives from international, federal, state, and local
governments, the veterinary community, academia, and various detector dog
SWGDOG is co-sponsored by the Transportation Security
Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and is managed through
Florida International University with support obtained from the National
Institute of Justice Office of Justice Programs.
SWGDOG is co-chaired by two academicians: Dr. Kenneth Furton, an analytical
chemist at Florida International University, who is an expert on the chemical
basis of detector dog alerts to forensic specimens, and Dr. Karen Overall of the
University of Pennsylvania, a specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine with
a focus on canines.
SWGDOG is not in the certification business. One of
the hopes, however, is that an accreditation program will be established by an
independent body, whereby agencies and organizations which already certify
detector dog teams, could choose to undergo accreditation to reflect the fact
that their standards meet or exceed those recommended by SWGDOG.
will be developing certification guidelines for not just bomb dogs, but
virtually all types of canine detectors, including drugs, arson, cadaver,
search and rescue, agriculture, tracking, trailing, etc.
Currently, SWGDOG’s general guidelines call for annual recertification of dog-handler
teams, requiring a 90 percent success rate for detection in various scent and
substance tests. That is not currently the universal standard, however, as the
National Narcotics Detector Dog Association requires only a 75 percent success
Guidelines for handler
selection calls for comprehensive training in areas from basic canine care
and dog training fundamentals to common methods of scent concealment.
There are also recommendations for handlers to be able to display that his or her dog trains regularly
with respect to
differentiating between target substances and those which are intended to conceal or
In current detection testing, handlers may know the location of the find.
However, proposed SWGDOG evaluation guidelines desire one double-blind test, plus
single-blind tests. These would include tests in which the handler knows the number of
scents placed and others tests in which the handler does not how many have been
placed. And, they would like there to be one test in which no scents have been
We are especially interested in the work from the subcommittee
on Research and Technology looks especially interesting Recommended research is
noted in the following areas:
1. Identification/quantification of target odorants
2. Dog Performance – An important goal when training working dogs is to
determine the performance envelope of the dogs so that there is a correct
understanding of their capabilities and limitations. Only when we know how the
dogs are presently working will we be able to determine the effectiveness of new
manipulations. Basically, the goal is to obtain a clear understanding of how the
current working dogs actually work and what variables affect their probability
3. Research on olfaction – Focused on laboratory research,
either chemical or behavioral. For example, the question regarding the
limitation of tracking would best be considered under “dog performance” and not
4. Research on Learning – This section will include
actual experimentation on training methodologies, types of reinforcement,
relationship between training and operations performance and questions on
generalization and concept formation. The following topics are proposed:
- Research on the effectiveness of training aids. Does extensive
experience with the training aid help or hinder the later detection of the
- What is the optimal way to utilize training aids? Start easy (e.g., most
volatile) or start hard (e.g., least volatile). Start with mixture of odors
(“cocktail” or “beef stew” approach) or with individual odors.
- Masking effects and training to overcome them
- Memory for previously trained odors
- Effects of extinction on olfactory search and detection
- Context effect
- Search images
- Generalization versus concept formation on the response to novel odors.
- Reinforcement effects, the effects and side effects of negative
- Food versus Play reinforcement
- Effects of reinforcement schedules on performance
- Effects of odor quantity on detection. Is there really a difference in
training on 10 g. of TNT versus 10000 g of TNT? And if so, what and why?
- Effects of additional cues on target detection (such as the odor of the
human placing the target and the odor of newly dug holes).
5. Selection, Development, and Early Experience. The overall goal is to
determine how to optimize the development of detector dogs. Suggested topics
- Early olfactory experience and later detection of that odor
- Does environmental enrichment help prepare dogs for harsh and different
- Rearing in a kennel ─ is it possible to get a
good working dog?
- What is required during development to get a good working dog?
6. Veterinary issues
- Hip dysplasia
- Breed problems etc.
- Evaluation of transmitting thermometer to determine heat stress in dogs.
One handler/supervisor can immediately see on a receiver the internal body
temperature of all the dogs and determine if any are becoming hyperthermic.
7. Human scent
- Determine the influence of skin cells (rafts) on human scent signature
- Determine the mechanism of human scent production, traces and
dissipation (from different biological fluids).
- Determine the optimal materials and procedures for the collection and
storage of human scent.
- Quantify the influence of environmental factors (particularly time) on
human scent composition and detection (incorporate into optimize training
- Quantify the relative importance of human scent and disturbance for
tracking/trailing dogs (and other areas).
- Evaluate which chemicals make human scent unique and the
influence/correlation to state of health and genetic factors (MHC influence)
- Evaluate what components of human scent dogs use to detect live humans.
- Quantify the amount of human scent required for dogs to trail and to
- Conduct critical evaluations of the limitation of human scent dogs (aged
trails, versus fresh trails, no scent article, large contamination)
- Evaluate when difference between live and deceased human scent and the
timing and chemicals characteristic of deceased human remains.
- Critically evaluate contamination issue (If we are shedding skin cells
24/7 from our entire body, how does a pair of gloves stop our odor from
transferring to our training aids?)
There are further recommendations as to the essential knowledge that all dog
trainers should possess, especially in regard to learning and conditioning and
olfaction as well as the optimal means of disseminating this information such as
in the form of a course curriculum, computer aided instruction or short courses
designed for trainers. And, there are recommendations as to a reliable and valid
means of testing and certifying working dogs based on the current scientific