The government has established federal standards on the sniffing skills of M dogs, but the specific requirements are too sensitive to be made public.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announced this week that it has adopted an “Odor Recognition Proficiency Standard” for dogs that are used detect bombs or bullets in airports.
The standards include a test to make sure the trained canines are “proficient” at finding trace chemicals found in virtually all explosives, said ATF spokesman Tom Hill.
“You don’t want to have people out there training dogs in different ways and no way of certifying how proficient they are,” Miller explained.
ATF’s top dog is a black Labrador retriever named Charlie, whose skill at detecting the smell of explosives in extremely small concentrations has pushed him to celebrity status and appearances on morning television programs.
Several others have been trained in a lengthy ATF conditioning program that teaches them to associate the smell of chemicals common to virtually all explosives with a treat from their handlers.
“We’re working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a pilot project in airports,” Hill said. “We are looking at how a dog can go all over the airport, rather than relying on stationary equipment (to detect explosives).”
Congress last year directed the Treasury Department, which includes ATF, to develop minimum performance standards for airport dogs.
Copies of the Odor Recognition Proficiency Standard for Explosive Detection Canines can be requested in writing by law enforcement and other government agencies.
However, they will not be available to the general public, an ATF official said, because disclosure could help would-be bomb makers to know what they are going up against.
“There’s sensitive information in there,” explained Rhonda Bokorney, chief of the ATF canine operations unit.
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