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Bomb Sniffing Dog Breeds

Bomb sniffing dogs are some of the most remarkable dogs used by law enforcement and security throughout the world.

This post will delve into the world of bomb-sniffing dog breeds, highlighting their unique abilities, training methods, and the crucial role they play in maintaining security.

Working German Shepherd dog sniffing a suspecting package for drugs or explosives.
Photo credit: YayImages.

What are bomb dogs trained to smell?

Bomb dogs, commonly referred to as explosive detection dogs are trained to detect many different explosive compounds. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), their bomb dogs are trained to detect basic explosives groups, including chemical compounds used in an estimated 19,000 explosives formulas.

Some common chemicals and explosives that bomb dogs can smell include black or smokeless powder, ammonium nitrate, potassium chlorate, RDX, C4, TNT, dynamite, PETN, TATP, HMTD.

Other common uses for bomb dogs include their ability to smell for guns as well as bullet shell casings.

What bomb-sniffing dog breeds are used to smell for bombs?

Many different breeds of dogs are used as bomb detection dogs but some of the most common ones include:

  • Belgian Malinois
  • German Shepherd
  • Dutch Shepherd (whose markings are quite stunning and unique similar to blue roan horses)
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • German Wirehaired Pointer
  • Labradors 

These breeds are selected for many reasons which include their strong hunt drive, trainability, high energy levels, extraordinary olfactory receptors, agility, and intelligence.

There’s a bit of crossover between bomb dogs and drug sniffing dog breeds but they’re not actually all the same.

The Dutch Shepherd vs. Belgian Malinois debate runs deep in the working dog community as these two breeds are the most commonly used and quite similar in overall behavior and performance.

Most of these breeds have long hair and shed quite a bit. If you prefer large hypoallergenic dogs, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Where are bomb dogs used to smell for bombs?

Bomb dogs are utilized to smell for explosives in many large venue settings which can include concerts, malls, sporting arenas and stadiums, mass transit facilities, airports, jails/prisons, schools, casinos, and government buildings. 

Bomb dogs are able to smell almost any object they can put their nose close to which include packages, luggage, vehicles, safes and lockers.

These highly skilled canines can even be trained to detect and indicate the presence of explosives on a person’s body.

A Belgian Malinois sniffs a row of containers in search of one with a hidden object.
Photo credit: YayImages.

How are bomb dogs trained to smell bombs?

There are many ways to train bomb dogs to smell for bombs. However, similar to narcotics detection training, the most common process is called imprinting.

A dog can be imprinted on almost any scent whether illegal or not. This is how dogs can smell nicotine and tobacco as well as the chemical substance in magic mushrooms.

During the imprinting process, a specific odor (referred to as target odor) is presented to the dog in a tube or box and subsequently marked by using a verbal marker or clicker. The dog is then rewarded with either food or a toy every time it smells the particular tube or box that contains the target odor. 

Sometimes a scent training wheel, which is a large wheel that contains numerous boxes on the end of each arm is used. The arms each hold a container, one of which is loaded with the target odor.  The bomb dog is marked and rewarded when it smells the box with the target odor.

The dogs begin to associate that specific odor with a reward and will soon eagerly hunt for that odor amongst numerous blank or empty tubes or boxes.

Once the dog correctly identifies the specific odor they are then trained to perform a final response to the target odor. In most cases, for bomb dogs, this response is to sit and stare at the source of the target odor.

Bomb dogs have a far superior sense of smell compared to that of a human. While humans have approximately 5 million olfactory receptors in their noses, bomb dogs have an estimated range of 125 to 300 million, depending on the breed and their olfactory bulbs in the brain are much larger than humans

Which is the best bomb sniffing dog breed?

No dog is exactly the same. Different dogs have different personalities and traits. 

The breeds listed above are generally what are utilized for bomb detection. However, selecting a bomb dog breed is just one factor in the decision process. Equally as important is the individual dog’s aptitude, temperament and the training of the human handler who is holding the other end of the leash.