Thursday, March 31, 2011
Bomb sniffing dogs and their handlers are one of our most reliable defenses against hidden explosive devices. These highly trained canines and handlers help keep our airports, borders and cities safe. I recently had the honor of talking with Officer Armando Cruz of the Denver Police Department Explosive Detection Canine Unit. Officer Cruz and his dog, Masc, are both skilled in the art of bomb sniffing – well, Masc does the sniffing – and Officer Cruz and Masc are stationed at the Denver International Airport along with seven other canine teams. CANIDAE is proud to sponsor this Explosive Detection Canine Unit through its Special Achievers program.
The DPD K-9 unit has three Labs, four German Shepherds and one Belgian Malinois. Along with their duties at the Denver airport, they also respond to calls in the Denver area and other jurisdictions when asked. The mission of the DPD Explosive Detection Canine Unit is to detect and prevent criminals from being able to use explosive devices by finding them before they can cause damage or injuries. Established in 1972, the dog teams are a proven and reliable balance to the DPD's counter-sabotage program, and they help prevent terrorist attacks.
Denver's K-9 unit is partially funded by the TSA National Explosive Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP). All but two of the dogs used in the DPD K-9 unit came from overseas breeders. The TSA has a puppy program located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas and two Labs used in Denver's program came from the TSA's puppy program. One interesting footnote on the TSA puppy program is that each puppy is named after one of the victims from September 11 by using their first, middle or last name.
As with any human/dog relationship, a strong bond is very important. “When the dogs bond with us, they want to work harder for us, they want to complete their assignment, they want to please us. You absolutely have to have that bond to have a good working dog because we're a team. He doesn't do it on his own, nor could I do it on my own,” explained Officer Cruz. In fact, bonding is so essential when working as a team that each handler attends an extensive training mission for ten weeks at Lackland Air Force Base. After graduation from the training school, a handler and dog are then evaluated 30 to 90 days after returning home on an 11 day training mission to make sure they have a strong bond. “If you don't have a bond with a working dog, it doesn't work out,” said Officer Cruz.
Each dog lives with their handler. When a dog reaches retirement age (between 8 to 10 years of age) they are donated to the Denver Police Department and the department will then release the dog to his handler. If the handler resigns before a dog is retired, is promoted or transfers out of the department and the dog is still young enough to continue working, the dog is returned to Lackland Air Force Base and reassigned to a new handler. Officer Cruz added fondly, “My dog Masc is 8 years old and he still acts like a puppy. So I have a feeling this dog is going to work until he's 11 or 12. He's ready to go to work when I start up the truck and put the back tailgate down.”
The best explosive sniffing dog has a strong prey drive. Puppies who go in search of their toy when it's taken away and like to play hide-and-seek are perfect candidates. The dogs are given a scent to learn along with a sit command, and are taken back to a scent until they learn it. The sit command tells the handler the dog has found what he was asked to find. “So all the dog knows is, when I smell this scent and I sit, I get my toy plus I get all the verbal praise in the world and I get all the affection from my handler,” said Officer Cruz.
The dog is just playing a game of hide-and-seek, but his handler knows he’s performing a vital service in protecting the public. “They don't understand how valuable they are to us looking for explosives, but we know how important it is,” said Officer Cruz. When asked how many different scents the dogs are trained to detect, Officer Cruz told me “The dogs are trained on various odors that are associated with explosives.” But for security purposes, he couldn't tell me the exact number.
Some K-9 Units teach their dogs commands in German or Dutch to keep a suspect from being able to understand what command an officer just gave to his dog. The DPD Bomb Dog Unit doesn't deal with suspects, so their dogs are all trained in English.
According to Officer Cruz, the dogs have been eating CANIDAE for around 10 years. “They've been doing great on the CANIDAE Grain Free pureELEMENTS. It helps keep their digestive system working like it's supposed to. The protein in the food keeps their energy drive up, keeps them working well and as working dogs, it's so important for the dogs to have healthy bowel movements. The CANIDAE food keeps their coats shiny and healthy and they look good,” he said.
Officer Cruz wanted to pass along the department’s thanks to CANIDAE for the work they do in sponsoring these amazing dogs. I would also like to thank the handlers and dogs of the Denver Police Department Explosive Detection Canine Unit for the important work they do. Searching for explosives may seem like a game to the dogs, but we know how vital these K9 teams are in helping to keep us safe. The dogs may not understand, but we do.
Read more articles by Linda Cole