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When it comes to sniffing out danger, there’s little that can compete with a dog’s nose – as long as that dog is trained to alert the proper authorities, of course. After all, the canine nose is at least 10,000 times more sensitive than the human nose and has around 50 times more olfactory receptors.
All of this makes dogs excellent candidates for useful detection jobs such as sniffing out bombs, illicit drugs, and infectious diseases, and locating people in need of rescue after a disaster. Yet of the 5,159 dogs working for the federal government (as of February 2022), around 93% were born and trained abroad, mostly in Europe. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic brought the amazing usefulness of the canine nose into clearer focus (they were trained to detect coronavirus), the pandemic also interrupted the breeding, training, and importation process.
To avoid losing out on the most naturally advanced bomb-detection technology in the government’s arsenal, the obvious route would be to implement more domestic programs to train explosives-detection dogs, though this will require careful planning. Selecting the right puppies to train for the job, and raising them in an optimal environment, is crucial. Not only do bomb-detection dogs need a calm temperament, strong work ethic, and a good relationship with their human handler, but they also need to be able to work in potentially stressful, loud, and chaotic conditions.
Dogs (and rats and elephants) to the rescue:
- According to one calculation, it costs around $46,000 to train a dog (and its handler) to carry out passenger screenings for the Transportation Security Administration.
- A dog’s nose is so powerful and sensitive that it can detect concentrations of as little as one part per trillion.
- Plenty of other animals have a well-developed sense of smell, but dogs are clearly the obvious choice, especially over elephants and jackals. Rats, however, may become more common in the future as detection animals as they are small, agile, and relatively inexpensive to train. They are already hard at work sniffing out landmines.