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Setting the Dogs on Suicide Bombers

A HANDLER FOR the U.S. Park Police recently said in an interview on National Public Radio that explosives-sniffing canines were of questionable value for use against suicide bombers. Part of the problem is that bomb-sniffing dogs are trained not to bother people.

But dog trainers in the private sector say that using dogs to sniff out suicide bombers is feasible. In fact, through a program called “Pups for Peace,” Israel has been using dogs for that very purpose for two years, and officials there have credited the dogs and their handlers with preventing bombings and saving lives.

Whether this practice would be as publicly accepted in the United States or other countries where suicide bombings are not such an omnipresent threat is uncertain. But the implementation issues would not be an obstacle, say experts. The retraining needed to get bomb-sniffing dogs to consider people as a possible host of the explosives would be minimal, says Peter B. Major, president of STK-9 in Carmel, New York.

“I can see it being used here on an increased basis,” adds Henri R. Nolin, president of Sun State Specialty K-9s in Daytona Beach, Florida, “especially in light of the announcement that authorities in New York's subway system will be searching backpacks.”

U.S. Customs has long used its dogs to sniff travelers, with good results, says Nolin.

The major hurdle is that canines can only work for about 20 minutes at a time. The optimal solution, Nolin says, is to pair dogs with electronic Sniffers detect particles, but particles can be wiped away. Dogs detect vapors, so the two methods complement each other well, he says.