FORCE PROTECTION: Improving K-9 Counter-IED Efforts

January 30, 2013 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

Building a Better Dog

A Marine from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, training with his improvised explosive device (IED) detection dog. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A Marine from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, training with his improvised explosive device (IED) detection dog. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

ARLINGTON, Virginia — If you want better performance out of bomb detecting dogs, make sure they’re suited for the mission, realistically trained – and not too tired or stressed.

That’s the advice a military working dog expert at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) proposes for increasing the effectiveness of dogs used to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – such as homemade explosives, roadside bombs and booby traps.

As manager of ONR’s Naval Expeditionary Dog Program, Lisa Albuquerque said her goal “is to figure out how to optimize the use of dogs – both as sensor and sensor platform.” At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines had more than 600 detector dogs. Now there are about 200 in Afghanistan with Marines on foot patrols.

Speaking Tuesday (Jan. 29) at a counter IED conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA), Albuquerque said the best detector dogs have hunting instincts and training. That’s why the Marine Corps uses only “hunt bloodline, field trial trained Labrador Retrievers,” that are selected for their sturdiness as well as the sniffing ability, she added.

“A dog hunting for birds is actually very similar to a dog hunting for an IED,” she said. But she cautioned that that detector dogs are only a single tool in the explosive ordnance disposal toolbox: “You will never be able to unilaterally depend on a dog.”

Problems can arise if you’ve got the wrong dog for the job, or the wrong handler. “Most of the time, if there’s a mistake, it ain’t the dog,” she said. Dogs that are fatigued or over-heated will have trouble paying attention and will perform poorly.

Another issue tackled by the ONR program is whether the handler is a distraction to the dog. “Maybe the dog was the strong part of the team,” said Albuquerque, who herself is a dog handler trained at the Defense Department’s military working dog program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Before taking on the ONR program, she was dog program manager for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and head of training all dogs for the Defense Department for four years.

The dogs in Albuquerque’s program are trained to move – off the leash – 50 to 100 meters ahead of their handlers, letting Marines on patrol focus on situational awareness and security while the dog does his or her job looking for IEDs..

Albuquerque said it was also important to train dogs to operate in a real world environment – not just the same location day after day – looking for explosives instead of training aids.

ONR has cooperated with several universities like Oklahoma State and Duke University on studies of how dogs process information and how flexible they can be.

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Entry filed under: Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , .

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