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A Day in The Life: Bomb Squad Dogs

Can you tell if your coffee has sugar in it just by sniffing it? Dora probably can. Dora is a bomb squad dog who works for the FBI K9 program. She’s a friendly yellow Labrador retriever and looks just like a childhood pet. However, she’s a hard-working member of the nation’s law enforcement. Bomb squad dogs may work for the police force, the FBI, or the military. They’re trained to sniff out explosives in suitcases, cars, and other objects.

An explosive detection canine can pick up the scent of about 19,000 different combinations of chemicals that may be used to blow something up, according to the FBI. In fact, a dog can smell a teaspoon of sugar in a swimming pool. The FBI uses these dogs to ensure the safety of their facilities. Before 1999, the FBI used working dogs on a contract basis. The agency created its own K9 program in that year.

The FBI uses Labrador retrievers as bomb detection dogs because they’re calm and sociable. Although some working dogs aren’t brought into public settings very often, the FBI dog units are often working with the public. They must be able to respond well to people who approach and want to pet them. Still, they may wear vests that ask individuals to refrain from touching them.

Training Bomb Detection Dogs

In the FBI, bomb detection dogs are trained on a daily basis. In fact, they have to perform certain tasks to earn their food. The dog’s handler will hide something somewhere and command the dog to find it. When the dog finds the hidden object, she gets fed. This type of training goes on whether handlers are sick, on vacation, or just taking a day off.

Before they’re hired as part of the force, the dogs undergo rigorous training that begins in the first months of life. Initial training involves learning basic commands like “sit” and “stay.” The animals also learn to stay focused in distracting situations and socialize with other dogs and people.

When they’re old enough, bomb squad dogs begin training to sniff out explosives. MSA Security is one company that trains teams of bomb-sniffing dogs. The business teaches dogs to identify 32 different chemical odors and sit when they detect them. The trainers do this by placing the various scents in identical empty paint cans lined up throughout the room. When the dog finds a substance, it is rewarded. The repetition and reward imprint those scents on the dogs’ brains. More specific training is then performed to teach the dogs to find explosives in cargo, vehicles, luggage, buildings, public transportation, and offices.

According to Smithsonian, the best explosive-detecting breeds of working dogs are German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labrador retrievers. German shepherds will work tirelessly if they’re rewarded with play. Retrievers do best when they’re rewarded with food. That’s why the FBI incorporates daily training into its Labs’ feeding schedules. Golden retrievers may have the best sense of smell of all dogs. However, they’re so intelligent that rewards don’t always get them to do what you want. If the dogs don’t feel like doing something, you can’t do much to get them to cooperate. Bloodhounds aren’t used because they have a good sense of smell but aren’t very smart.

Bomb Dog Handler Training

Bomb dogs are usually paired with the same handler for life. They work, live, and play with these humans. Therefore, the people must undergo specialized training too. Companies like the Global Training Academy educate and certify individuals who work with bomb dogs, including police officers across the nation. There are many other handler training programs, but Global Training Academy has set the standard.

If the handlers can’t recognize the dogs’ communication, they can’t do their work effectively. The human side of the team must learn to give commands and read the dogs’ cues. ROVER is a video game that was developed by the military to train people to listen to their dogs.

The K9 program is highly competitive. People who work as part of a working dog team are often military veterans or decorated officers. In addition to the training they receive to work with the dogs, they must know how to care for the animals too. These working dogs are loved family pets in their downtime.

Where Do Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Work?

These heroic dogs usually work with different law enforcement agencies to investigate properties, military operations or special events. For example, bomb dogs do a sweep before large gatherings like marathons. The dogs, which are sometimes referred to as vapor dogs, may work in sports stadiums and airports.

On a typical day, a vapor dog might work a 10-hour shift, visiting sites that require a sweep to look for explosives. After working for a few hours, the dog and the owner might take a break. The dog may need to be fed, in which case it can go through a training exercise. The canine will also play with the handler for a bit.


When the dog gets home at the end of a long day, it’s time to play with the family. Dora may play ball with the kids or get a bath. She may even go for a walk. This play time is important. It helps the dog bond with the family. A strong attachment to humans is essential for any working dog.

When A Working Dog Retires

Handlers tend to keep their dogs even after retirement. When you work, play, and sleep with a team member, you form a special connection that can be tough to break. Although military dogs and police dogs have different roles than service dogs, they still provide emotional support for their partners. Working dogs are given special memorial services when they pass away. If the handler dies, the dog may be placed with another individual or may be retired. What happens if the family has to move? The dog will sniff around a little more than your typical hound, and then it will be fine, as long as there are no explosives in the home.