Explosives detection dog teams can provide a mobile and real-time search and detection capability that can offer significant benefits to many operations. They are most commonly applied to aid the search of buildings, areas, vehicles or bulk deliveries.
Dogs can provide a useful capability but only where they have been trained to detect the materials of interest, trained in the relevant search discipline, and trained in situations and environments that replicate the specific operational scenario.
Dogs are intelligent animals, this can be useful to aid searching. However this makes them able to learn unintentional cues from handlers during training which can affect the overall performance of the dog in the operational environment. The ability and behaviour of the handler cannot be underestimated in aiding the performance of the dog. A good handler, both during training and in the field, is essential to achieving good detection performance.
The welfare of the dogs needs to be considered at all times. Organisations must ensure that any dogs are worked within their capacity and rested and exercised regularly and in suitable environments.
Where new threat materials are identified, it may be possible, following development of a suitable training aid, to train the dog to detect the new target odour, adding it to its capability.
Any indication given by a canine detection team does not, in itself, confirm the presence of any explosive material or device. Any interest or indication shown by a dog will need to be supplemented by a robust confirmation process. Whilst canine detection offers many advantages, like all technologies and techniques it is not perfect and should not be used in isolation. Canines can offer a particularly useful detection capability to screen complex vehicles, abnormal loads, or large areas that cannot easily be screened by other methods.
Many different government agencies in the UK use detection dogs. These dogs are subject to standardised training, accreditation and annual licensing, which serves to demonstrate that they are maintained at the required standard for operational deployment. Many private companies also offer the services of detection dogs. The dogs and handlers working for these private companies are not formally licensed, may not have access to the results of the latest research regarding best practice, and they may not have easy access to the full range of threat-relevant training materials. It is essential that any organisation looking to utilise canine detection understands the capability offered by the particular provider and is clear that this addresses their operational requirement.