After the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent “war on terror” declared by the USA, the role of explosive sniffer dogs has grown tremendously. Particularly in the United States itself, where the use of four-legged animals is now widespread in the busiest places of transit (ports, airports, railway stations) and on the occasion of events at risk of attack.
So if it is more and more frequent to see bomb dogs in action in the United States, it is increasingly rare to see bomb dogs in action affiliate The United States, meaning they were born in the country they are protecting.
Only 7% of the more than 5,000 police dogs used by federal agencies originated in the United States; The rest is imported, mostly from Europe. The issue has been known for years, but it’s back in the news thanks to a recently published report by the Government Accountability Office.
The dog’s sense of smell is ten to a hundred thousand times better than the human sense of smell; Thanks to the greater number of olfactory receptors (about three hundred million, against our six million) and to the morphology of the brain (the part devoted to the analysis of smells is about forty times larger than ours).
Dogs aren’t the only ones with a literally bomb-proof sense of smell — elephants, rats, and jackals have it, too — but they’re easier to use alongside a human in a very stressful context like the ‘counter-terrorism’ one. The most popular breeds are: German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd Malinois, German Pointer, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Hungarian Pointer. In addition to your sense of smell, to be a good bomb dog it is necessary to have a lot of courage and to know how to interact well with humans.
The United States mainly buys in Germany or the Netherlands, but all four come from eastern countries such as Croatia or Romania that have certain traditions of breeding and training working dogs.
A bomb-sniffing dog can cost up to $25,000. Samples destined for the Transportation Security Administration (the agency that handles transportation security) then undergo further training in the US, lasting 24 to 32 weeks, which can cost up to $46,000 including the costs of training its handler.
There are three problems for the United States and they are interrelated. The high price does not frighten countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, which often win the best specimens on the market at real auctions. High quality dogs are bred by a country like Germany, which hardly sells them and would rather give them to the police forces.
Finally, dependence on foreign suppliers is always dangerous because the arrival of the desired ‘goods’ – in this case sniffer dogs – in addition to being subject to the seller’s discretion, can be interrupted by a force majeure, such as an epidemic or war; This is what happened with Covid-19 and what is likely to happen as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is therefore not surprising that the United States would like to increase the number of domestically-bred dogs trained to sniff out bombs. In a few years we will know whether the programs launched to this end have succeeded.
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