German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers from Oklahoma and surrounding states converged at State Fair Park this week. They weren’t there to be judged on their looks, gait or breeding. Instead, this gathering was all about their noses.
The dogs, members of K-9 teams from law enforcement agencies and military bases from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, received training from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in detecting explosives.
The three-day class at the Oklahoma Expo Hall began Tuesday with a session on national and global trends in explosives.
Dogs also were tested on their detection skills. Handlers led the dogs around a circle of one-gallon paint cans, some containing the odors of explosives while others carried odors meant to distract the dogs or prompt false identifications. An ATF forensic chemist administered the tests, grading dog and handler teams on their performances.
Cody Monday, a K-9 trainer with ATF’s National Canine Division, said he uses everything from paper clips to cupcake wrappers as distraction odors. For security reasons, Monday could not go into detail about the explosive odors used in training, but he said they change as bomb-making trends do.
Dogs are given two chances to properly identify explosives. Most sit to indicate the presence of explosives, though some lie down.
Though accurately identifying explosives is pivotal to a bomb dog’s job, the test allows the dogs to make two false indications because sometimes handlers are to blame for wrong calls. Something as simple as lingering too long in one area can cause a dog to falsely indicate an explosive odor, Monday said.
A correct indication is immediately rewarded, usually with food or a chew toy.
- Related to this story
- Video: Explosive Detecting K9 Testing
Master Sgt. Dennis Reedy, an Oklahoma City K-9 officer, said some handlers even squeal or make joyful sounds to get their dog excited.
â€śThe dog works to please you,â€ť Reedy said. â€śSo the more excited, more happy you get, they know they’re doing right.â€ť
Dogs that pass the test are awarded a pin to wear on their collar showing they have met national standards.
Dogs that fail a test receive additional scent training from the ATF.
Teams must be recertified annually. Staff from the ATF’s National Canine Training Division constantly crisscross the country, offering more than a dozen sessions a year.
About 20 K-9 teams attended the Oklahoma City event, among them the Oklahoma City Police Department, the University of Oklahoma Police Department and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which hosted the training.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Meredith Jordan, 31, said she and her dog, Duke, are always training. The team recertified Wednesday.
â€śHe crushed it today,â€ť Jordan said of Duke. â€śI’m so happy for him.â€ť
Jordan said she’s spent the last three years with Duke, who’s deployed to the United Arab Emirates, Poland and Kuwait.
Military dogs are different from police dogs because they’re viewed more as assets, Jordan said.
When she goes home, Duke stays on base. That doesn’t mean they aren’t close.
Jordan’s enlistment term ends in about three months. She said she’s dreading saying goodbye.
“I love this dog,” Jordan said. “You want to give your dog your all.
â€śBut I know he’s going to be in good hands.â€ť