Explosives K9 Process
About ASCT
2018 Conference Classes
2018 Free Online Classes
Therapy and Service Certifications
Law Enforcement Certifications
Public Trainer Certification
K9 Certifications
Articles: United States
Articles: Scandinavia
Articles: South America
K9 Training Referrals
Humane Society of the United States
London Hanover University

The following article is borrowed from the XM research department. XM has developed the most dynamic K9 explosives scent source ever made. ASCT is currently testing the NESTT materials for our own approval and support for the canines trained on it. All reports and research for NESTT are that the source is amazingly accurate and specific.

For more information on the NESTT product visit www.RAYALLEN.com.

Bomb Squad Manual for New York City Police Department
Explosive Detection Canines


The problem of coping with the urban terrorist is all too often a matter of measure and countermeasure; unfortunately, the initiative belongs to the guerrilla, particularly to the urban bomber. He is free to change devices or methods at will; the police and/or military must respond appropriately and in kind. In this counterattack, no instruments, methods or procedures have universal applicability.

In recent years much scientific effort and monies have been expended to research and develop instruments and systems capable of detecting concealed bombs and explosives. In this regard the principle areas of scientific concern have been tagging, radiography, nuclear activation and effluent detection. In this latter category some extremely sophisticated scientific instruments have been developed, the so called "electronic sniffers". These have been mainly modified gas chromatographs or electron capture detectors with claimed capabilities of indicating the most minute of explosive odors. To date these instruments have been by and large delicate, expensive, non-portable and of limited applicability.

Ironically, the single most conspicuously successful effluent detector developed as of now has been man's best and oldest friend, the dog. And this paper is written with a specific mission to accomplish i.e. to find a concealed explosive quickly and efficiently.

There are some obvious problems involved in using dogs in law enforcement, particularly in large U.S. Cities where police dogs have a poor public image and which has had no recent previous experience with canines. Quartering, maintaining and training can be difficult indeed, to say nothing of the problem of overcoming the innate skepticism of one's fellow officers.

Bomb Detection Canines are being used in various parts of the world. Training methods and principles vary widely and can result in varying canine capabilities. This manual relates only to the experiences of the New York City Police Department. Generalizations can be hazardous.

On May 1, 1971, the New York City Police Department Bomb Section acquired its first dogs in over twenty years; one is a German Shepherd, and the other, a Labrador Retriever. Both dogs had been previously trained in explosive detection for the odors of dynamite and C-4 (a plastic explosive), by the Psychology Department of the University of Mississippi under a Federal Grant (L.E.A.A.). Both dogs were spayed females and had been debarked and received basic obedience training. The dogs were accustomed to work both on and off leash, and with more than one handler. Three qualified dog handlers were selected from the uniform force of the department to work with the dogs. A kennel was erected adjacent to the Bomb Squad Office since these particular dogs are for the exclusive use of their office.

Since in some ways training of Explosive Detection Canines represent certain departures from traditional methods and also from that of other detection dogs, it is therefore worth describing here.

II. Contamination

Contamination cannot be stressed too strenuously, prior to beginning explosive detection training. Because the dog must discriminate between human scent and an explosive odor, contamination plays an integral part of training for both the trainers and handlers.

Hereafter, when referring to an explosive odor or training aid (Hexachlorathane), a highly vaporous non-explosive chemical used initially in detection training, the term S+ will be used. S–will refer to other than explosive odors or the training aid Hexachlorathane, i.e. an empty jar or any distraction odors in jars such as sugar, dog food, oregano, pepper, etc.

Discrimination which is the first step in explosive detection training is the most important phase of training to be emphasized for the handlers and trainers.

When preparing jars for discrimination training, it is best to prepare the S- jars first and the S+ jar last. After preparing S+ jars, the trainer handling same must wash his hands thoroughly before continuing further. AT ALL TIMES the S+ jars and S- jars must be segregated.

An example of contamination learned by us through experience occurred when a dog alerted on an S- jar (non-explosive training aid). After thorough investigation it was discovered the trainer had previously touched the S+ jar (explosive odor) with the same hand he touched an S- jar. Therefore the dog was not wrong when alerting to the S- jar because it's assumed the jar became contaminated by the handlers' touching it with the S+ odor on his hands. It cannot be overly emphasized that contamination will utterly confuse the handlers, trainers and dogs. A rule should be the trainer handling jars use his right hand for S+ odors and left hand for S- odors.

III. Food as Primary Stimulus for Reward

Since food must be the motivating factor for Explosive Detection Canines, the dogs' weight shou1d be brought 10% below standard weight for that particular breed and age of dog. This must be accomplished prior to starting detection training.

During the training, food reward is best accomplished by using cubes of dehydrated dog food. Only a small amount should be given at each positive alert by the dog (3 to 4 cubes). An accounting of amount of food should be kept to insure the dog is receiving normal amount. Our dogs receive anywhere from 3 to 4 pounds of food per day overall.

Another method of reward which may be used is the "Big Payoff". This is accomplished after the last trial of the day. A can of dog food (or whatever amount needed to bring amount of food to normal level given to dog) is placed by an assistant trainer at a location where the dog can be brought to by the handler after the dog has alerted on an S+ odor. The food should be placed so the handler must run with the dog toward the area while saying in an enthusiastic voice "Good Dog". A dog should be rewarded with play periods at the end of a good trial day and occasionally at intervals during the day when working well.

Explosive detection training is accomplished in two phases: Discrimination and room search behavior. In each phase, both of which are conducted several times a week throughout the working life of the dog, desirable behavior is reinforced by food, as the primary reward, and by praise, as secondary rewards.

In discrimination training and as the alert signal, the dog is taught to respond to the stimulus of the odor of a particular explosive by sitting. Sitting was selected as the most appropriate response for obvious reasons. The dog was further taught to turn away from the explosive while alerting by sitting.

In the initial discrimination training, the dogs will only be required to sniff the S+ jar to get a food reward. Timing is very important. At the moment the dog sniffs the S+ jar (it is recommended that Hexachlorathane be used first, then the explosive odors can be substituted at a later phase of training), the handler immediately says "Good Dog" enthusiastically and gives the dog a few cubes of food as the reward. As soon as the dog associates the odor of Hexachlorathane with food reward, it will begin to salivate. After a period of trials, one S- jar (at this time an empty jar) should be introduced. When the dog has successfully learned to discriminate between the S+ and S- jar, then one S- jar at a time should be added until the dog is successfully discriminating among one S+ jar and three S- jars. As the dog becomes more proficient in discrimination, variables should be added, such as using S- jars with distractions odors (i.e. oregano, pepper, dog food, etc.) and increasing the number of S- jars and S+ jars. However, it is not advisable to use more than two S+ jars in any discrimination trial or have more than six jars in total, i.e. four S- and two S+.

IV. Procedure for Training Dog to Alert by Sitting

After the dog has been run through many trials in the discrimination task with the single S+ jar, it will begin to alert after sniffing same. Once this alerting behavior is recognizable, the Sit response to the S+ stimuli should be added.

This is accomplished when the dog sniffs the S+ jar, the handler while saying "good dog" enthusiastically, pushes down on the dog's hips with his left hand and puts the food in the dog's mouth pushing the dog's nose and mouth backward with the right hand. As the dog is pressed into the sitting position, the command "Sit" should be continually repeated. After a few trials, the physical and verbal cues should gradually be eliminated until the dog is sitting to the S+ odor without being prompted by the handler in any way.

No two dogs will learn at the same rate; thus all training must be programmed to suit each individual dog. The entire training program is based on the gradual assimilation of new behaviors which can only be learned if the dog has mastered the previous task. If a dog is slow in learning a particular task, it is essential that it be given additional practice at this task before it is introduced to the next training task. If a dog is pushed into new learning situations, before it has mastered a more elementary one, it probably will not be able to learn the new task. Do not make the mistake of rushing the dog. Anytime the dog is performing poorly it is essential to revert to a simplier task; once it is performing well, gradually progress to the more complex task. If the dog continues to perform poorly on the simplier task, training should be temporarily discontinued.

After the dog has mastered its response to S+ (using Hexachlorathane), simply replace the S+ odor (Hex) with the explosive odors your particular Bomb Section feels most valuable to teach the dog. The dogs assigned to this department have mastered dynamite, C-4, smokeless and black powder, various commercial dynamites, analytical RDX, PETN, TNT, as well as other American and European explosives.

V. Search Behavior

The second phase of training, Room Search Behavior, is conducted concommitantly with the first. It is begun as soon as the dog has completed the Discrimination Training. During initial room search behavior, it is advisable to use Hexachlorathane as the S+ odor, even though the dog works well with explosive odors. It should also be pointed out that once the dogs' performance has reached a peak level, Hexachlorathane should not be used, unless its performance wanes.

In room search the dog is encouraged, usually off leash, to indulge its natural curiosity, to search, find and sit to an S+ odor previously concealed out of his presence. Room search soon becomes an enjoyable experience for an eager dog. As before the level of complexity is gradually increased in a number of ways, by lessening the quantity of S+ in a jar or changing the kind of explosives once the dog has progressed favorably.

Only one S+ odor should be hidden in one room in the beginning of room search training. Also, when using three rooms, at first the dog should find an S+ odor in each room, gradually, decrease the number to one S+ odor and place one S- odor in the other two rooms. Again the question of contamination arises in room search training. If an S+ odor is placed in a room in a desk, the next day in the same room an S+ odor is placed in a file cabinet, remember, if the dog alerts to the desk it must be assumed the dog is correct. By this last statement you can imagine how difficult it is to acquire proper training facilities to properly train a dog.

At a later stage, experimentation with more than one explosive odor (S+) in one room can be attempted but only after the dog is proficient in finding the one S+ odor. In this type of training, our dogs have been successful in locating about 90 to 95% of the planted S+ odors.

It is desirable to have the dog search on command. Upon entering an area or room the dog should be given the verbal command "Search". There will be times when the dog will be required to search some particular area or object within the general area being searched. In these instances the handler should move to the area or object, get the dog's attention, indicate the object by moving his finger to the object, and give the search command.

To insure the dog's prompt response to the search command, some rather careful training will have to be given. This training should begin as early as possible, preferably during the first stages of the discrimination task. The dog must learn that when an area or object is indicated and the search command is given, it is more likely to detect an S+ odor than if it ignores the command. In order to establish and maintain this "search-find-reward" association, systematic conditioning of this association throughout training is necessary.

Establishing the association between the verbal command "SEARCH" and the increased likelihood of finding a S+ during the initial trials of the discrimination task will facilitate more rapid learning of the discrimination task, and in addition, will establish the search command as a signal for the dog to search more vigorously.

In order for the dog to learn to search more vigorously when the search command is given, the handler will have to give the dog the command just prior to making a detection. Begin by giving the command prior to the detection of the S+ on every trial. After several trials in which the search command is given on every trial, the command is then given on progressively fewer trials.

If the search command were given just before the dog sniffs the S+ and at no other time, the dog would soon learn that any time it hears the search command and sits, it will be rewarded. To insure that this behavior does not develop, the search command should be given just before the dog sniffs the S- stimuli on some trials. The percentage of times it is given to S- should be increasd gradually.

The systematic presentation of the command "Search" outlined above will result in the dog learning to search more vigorously when the search command is given; but the dog will continue to rely on the sense of smell in making the distinction between S+ and S- odors.

VI. Touch do not Disturb

After the dog has learned that the S+ odor means reward, it may, if not corrected, develop a potentially bad habit. Occasionally a dog will paw the S+ jar or may even take it into its mouth. Needless to say such behavior would be undesirable when the dog is searching for explosives. Therefore, do not allow this habit of pawing, biting or otherwise disturbing to develop. Of course, it would be better for the dog not to touch the S+ object at all. Practically speaking, however, such a prohibition would slow down the training and would also reduce the dog's detection capabilities. In order to keep this habit of pawing or mouthing the object from developing, do not reward the dog if it engages in these behaviors. This problem does not generally arise if reward follows the sit response very quickly. However, if there is a delay between the time the dog sits and the time when it is rewarded, such behavior may occur. If the dog displays the behavior and is subsequently rewarded, it is likely to respond in the same way on the next trial. Therefore, if the dog paws or otherwise disturbs the S+ stimuli, it is relatively easy to keep such a habit as this from developing; but once it has developed, it may be extremely difficult to break. So do not allow these behaviors to develop. If the dog engages in these behaviors before it sits, the verbal command "NO" is given followed by the command "SIT". If the dog responds to these commands, that is, if it stops disturbing the S+ and sits, it should be given a food reward. If it does not stop engaging in these behaviors when the command "NO" is given, the "NO" command should be repeated and the dog removed from the area to an isolation room as a correction and left there alone for a period of ten minutes.

VII. False Sits

There will be occasions when the dog will sit where there is no S+ odor present. This is an error which is referred to as a false sit.

The question is: What to do if the dog sits to one of the S- stimuli (a false sit)? While there are various possible ways to deal with this type of error, the best overall is to give the conditioned negative reinforcer "NO" followed by removing the dog from the vicinity of the S+ and S- odors. For example, if during discrimination training in the initial stages, the dog approaches, sniffs the S- odor and sits, the handler should say "NO" in a normal tone and take the dog back to the starting position. Do not pet or otherwise praise the dog until it has made a correct response. In most cases this correction procedure will suffice to eliminate the false sits. If the dog continues to make false sits in this situation, it is most likely that it has not made the association between the odor and the sit response. If the association between the S+ odor and the sit response apparently has not been made, revert back to giving praise and food without requiring the dog to sit. That is when the dog starts to make systematic or frequent errors, return to a more elementary stage of training and work back up to the point where the desired behavior started to break down. Do not wait until the undesired behavior has become chronic before backing up. Always back up enough to insure that the dog will respond successfully; then, after a period of correct responding at the more elementary level, continue to move gradually toward the desired goal.

A real life situation is merely an extension of room search behavior, wherein a second handler or better, the bomb expert, who is a vital member of the bomb detection team, plants an explosive odor every third or fourth room or equivalent, so the dogs periodically makes a find, is rewarded and is thus encouraged to continue to search

Copyright ©1996 - 2018 American Society of Canine Trainers. All rights reserved.