Man’s Best Friend To Play Protection Role At Inauguration


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By Brittany Whitley/Media General News Service
Published: January 18, 2009

OPELIKA, Ala.—Four Labrador retrievers from Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Program will be roaming the crowd of more than a million people at Tuesday’s presidential inauguration with one mission to keep spectators, participants—and the country’s new president—safe.

These aren’t just any dogs. They are specialists trained in “vapor-wake detection.”

“A plume of vapor is emitted from a person, essentially a trail of your chemical signature,” said Paul Waggoner, research fellow and interim director of the Canine and Detection Research Institute in McClellan, Ala.

The dogs can detect explosives kept on a person, such as in the case of a suicide bomber, in the trail of vapor.

“U.S. Capitol Police, who are in charge of the immediate area of the actual inauguration, requested those four specially prepared teams (dog and handler). Capitol Police want these to be where they can screen people in the audience at the closest points to where the president will be speaking,” he said of the plans for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Jeanne Brock, senior instructor and breeding program manager at the research institute, said these dogs have been trained since they were 12 weeks old to be vapor-sniffing canines.

“We’re conditioning the behavior that we want. Things we’ve done with these puppies, everything that is done, is like a game. They are all done with an end in mind,” she said.

Training begins in prisons in Georgia and Florida, where the puppies are assigned to inmate-handlers, she said.

Each inmate is screened before he receives a puppy. The inmates teach the puppies to be human-oriented, along with other things, such as house training. The dogs live with the inmates in their cells, she said.

“The dog looks to the handler for enjoyable things to do,” she said.

After about a year, the dogs are returned to the institute.

“The primary training is done with one of our trainers and a dog,” she said. This stage of training takes about three months, although more specialized training, like vapor wake detection, can take longer, she said.

There is one final stage to training, Brock said.

The company or agency that purchases a dog sends a handler, who trains at the facility for 10 weeks. Like the dogs, specialized training for humans can also take longer.

“They (the dogs) have a very good life. They are a partner and are treated as such,” she said. “The work to them is a game, to get to play all day long is every dog’s dream.”

In addition to the four vapor-wake teams, 30 traditional bomb detection dog teams will protect Amtrak railways in Washington.


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