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A Day in the Life of A Bomb Sniffing Dog

By: Dr. Mary Anna Labato

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Meet Bara, a 4-year-old spayed female Belgian malinois, and a member of the Massachusetts State Police Canine Explosive Detection Program. Bara is one of hundreds of working dog teams in the United States. Bara and her handler were trained in a special military program at Lackland Air Base in Texas that was started in the mid '70s and Boston was one of six cities first enlisted in the program.

Bara started her work at about a year of age. The program uses a variety of dogs including German shepherds, Belgian malinois, Labrador retrievers and vizlas.

In this program, a police officer/handler goes to Texas for training for 3 months. He first works with experienced dogs that actually train the handlers, and then the officers and their new canine partners are assigned to teams. Once the school training is complete the pair goes home for further work. There is yet an " at home" certification after six months of working as a team. The team then gets annual evaluations by the FAA. Agents come to the airports for these evaluations.

A typical workday for Bara consists of a 10-hour shift. On an average day there will be five to six calls to check a plane, an unattended bag, an unattended vehicle or other site. Like any hard worker after a few hours on the job, Bara gets a coffee break. For her it is usually a time to play; Bara particularly likes to play tug of war with her Kong.

Then it is time to clean the cruiser, get a bath and train a little. Frequent and consistent training is an important part of the job. Two of the 4 days of the work week are dedicated to training. Training is at the work site and "training aids" are used. All bomb dogs are "passive response" workers. That means when they get the scent of an explosive they go to the site and sit in front of it, and wait for their reward. Rewards can be toys or food depending on the individual preference of the dog.

Bomb dogs like Bara occasionally get to go to events out of the airport to check for explosives. They will be called on to check concert and sporting event sites and other sites where dignitaries may be present. Dogs like Bara are very dedicated workers, and they truly enjoy their jobs. Their handlers have to put their trust in these four-footed partners. They know their canine partners well and take excellent care of them. This means regularly scheduled veterinary visits, good diets, lots of brushing and exercise.

To remain a working bomb sniffer, Bara and her handler must pass a yearly exam. To maintain certification a team must have a passing rate that meets FAA standards. It is an important job and these dogs take their work seriously. Next time you are at an airport, remember that Bara and other dogs just like her are hard at work trying to keep everyone safe.

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