News: Explosive training: finding the scent
Story by Pfc. Christopher Johns
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – His four legs scramble over a rocky trail, while his nose follows the scent of what he’s looking for. As he looks up into the brush, the wired aid becomes visible and he sits to the sounds of praise from his handler. Rex, a military working dog with the station Provost Marshal’s Office kennel, found one of many objects he’d been trained to find — explosives.
Handlers with the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Provost Marshal’s Office and their dogs conducted explosives detection training, here, Feb. 22.
If a hostile situation were to arise where bombs are a factor, handlers and their dogs are trained to effectively seek them out, possibly saving many lives.
“The dogs are initially trained on the [odors of the training aids] aboard Lackland Air Force Base, Texas,” said Cpl. David A. Mayes, the chief trainer for the kennel and a St. Michael, Pa., native. “The dogs then have a basic understanding of the aids they have to find, and we advance their training as far as making it harder to find the aids.”
The initial training takes about six months. After the dogs arrive at a military police kennel, the handlers continue training the dogs until the dogs no longer work at the kennel.
“Things are always changing out there,” said Cpl. Wayne S. Williams, a military working dog handler and a New York City native. “So the dogs’ training is never complete.”
To keep the dogs in top form, handlers train them in finding explosives at least once a week, making sure the dogs don’t become complacent.
“The training we do here, and the practice we get out in the field, shows everything is constantly changing,” said Mayes. “So our training here has to change too.”
Along with the training comes a reward system. When the dog finds an aid or an explosive device, the handler immediately praises and rewards the dog with a toy.
“We associate the aid that you want the dog to find with the reward the dog is given,” said Mayes. “He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but he knows once he finds that certain aid that you taught him to find, he’s going to get his reward.”
The dog’s specific job is to find the scent of the aid. To do this, the dog brackets back and forth along a field looking for the “scent cone.”
The aid is the tip of the scent cone, the scent flowing outward in a cone-like shape, but as the scent gets further away from its origin it gets weaker. The closer the dogs get to the training aid, the stronger and more reliable the scent becomes, leading the dog to the aid.
Once the dog finds the scent at its strongest point, the dog receives his reward and the aids or explosives are properly removed.
After a long day of searching through rocks and trees to find the aids, the dogs’ and handlers’ training is complete. The completion of this training may one day save the lives of hundreds of people, or the lives of a squad of Marines.