Animal Jobs Series: Bomb Dogs
While no one wants to imagine a bomb in a building or elsewhere, the reality is that bombs exist and unfortunately dangerous people do use them to intimidate and harm others. Of course, removing a found bomb is imperative but nothing can be done without first detecting and finding the bomb. Bomb-sniffing dogs, or bomb dogs, are one of the best defenses and a preferred way to quickly and reliably establish whether there is indeed a bomb.
Worst case scenario, a detection team finds a bomb, quickly setting the wheels in motion to safely disarm it. Best case scenario, they provide confirmation (and with it, peace of mind) that there is no bomb. Either way, these partners enter with no guarantee of the outcome, bravely working to ensure the safety of others.
Buildings large and small, methods of transportation (cars, lorries, boats, trains, planes), entertainment venues, airports, public and private centres with historical or religious significance and densely populated locations are all vulnerable. However, they are all able to be thoroughly searched for a potential threat by a bomb dog and a handler or a team of dogs and their handlers. In addition, the British army is currently using Arms and Explosives dogs, usually Spaniels, in Afghanistan to sniff out explosives and ordinance.
To be certified as a bomb dog, training is rigorous. It starts early, with a dog first screened for the right temperament. Whereas service dogs that aid vision or hearing-impaired individuals and people with physical disabilities must be extremely calm, a bomb dog is trained off of a natural impulse of playfulness and energy. For a bomb dog, searching for and detecting explosives is a game and one they eagerly play with a drive and stamina not easily matched.
Many bomb dogs are trained by private companies. These companies train both dogs and their handlers and provide detection services. The dogs are screened for temperament, which must be friendly and outgoing, and a strong hunting instinct. With those characteristics in place, it is a matter of training the dog how to work with a handler to follow the appropriate commands necessary in the field and what exactly it is they are supposed to hunt for.
Constant training is required to reinforce exposure to and familiarity with the numerous chemicals and materials related to explosives, since field work does not necessarily provide daily exposure to these materials.
Handlers and dogs are trained in specialised training areas where realistic situations can be recreated. Rigorous testing is undertaken to ensure that a dog in this line of work possesses the experience to safeguard themselves as well as ensure the safety of those they work to protect. It is also vitally important that the dog and their handler are able to work closely together and that a strong bond is formed between them. However, in Afghanistan, dogs usually work with a handler for only a few months at a time before the handler is deployed elsewhere. The dogs, however, stay on and will have a new handler to get used to and work with.
For investigation teams, police units and security forces in charge of bomb detection, the bomb-sniffing dog is often the crucial field asset for mission success and survival. In the battlefield, dogs are also used for tasks such as searching vehicles and checking patrol and convoy routes. Their training is ongoing as situations are constantly changing.
It's scary to think about bombs, and sometimes seeing a bomb dog is unnerving, as it is a reminder of the potential threat, but there is also a deterrent value to the visibility of a bomb dog. Their presence serves as a reminder that we have a wonderful ally against violence.
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