Intense Training for Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

By<a href="http://198.106.245.151/sections/wnt/WorldNewsTonight/vonfremd_michael_bio.html">Mike von Fremd</a>

D A L L A S, Jan. 12, 2002 -- Coby wants to get to get to work. Her job: bomb detection at airports. Her pay: nothing more than a plastic ball.

The 2-year-old Belgian Malinois is one of 14 dogs paired with police officers from various parts of the country this week. Her breed is the premier dog for law enforcement because it excels at patrol work, tracking and explosive detection.

"She is mine. She will go home with me. She will go everywhere I go," says John Long, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, after being introduced to Coby.

The officers traveled to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to meet their new partners. The base is where the Federal Aviation Administration trains all of its bomb-sniffing dogs.

The dogs they were matched up with will be at each officers side for the next 10 to 13 years. The officers will take their dogs home every night, work with them everyday and when the time comes for the dog to retire most will keep them as the family pet.

Coby who has trained at Lackland Air Force Base for more than a month is already certified to the FAA's highest standards. During the next 11 weeks, Long will be learning what Coby can do.

"So we are going to learn together. She has got a lot of things down. I have a lot more to go but we are going to learn together," says Long, who has wanted to be a dog handler since he joined the LAPD 14 years ago.

Good Dog

The Lackland school simulates everything a dog could encounter on the job. Real explosives are hidden in cabinets, airplane seats and luggage. These dogs can pick up the scent in seconds and are taught to immediately sit when they find the bomb.

Trainers believe the dogs would have detected the explosives found in the shoes of a passenger on an American Airlines flight from Paris last month.

"Everything that I have seen as far as the type of explosives that were in those shoes, if our dogs would have been put in a situation to detect it, in all probability they would have responded," says Air Force Sgt. John Pearce.

Right now, only the nation's 39 busiest airports are protected with bomb sniffing dogs. The FAA wants to double that and protect 80 U.S. airports with a total of 300 dogs.

At Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport, the nation's third busiest, six dogs are already at work. One is Eagan, a 4-year-old German Shepherd who undergoes proficiency training once a week.

During a test, Eagan found two bombs planted on a Boeing 777 in less than 10 minutes. "Can you imagine how long it would take us to search, to visually search an aircraft to find explosives?" asks DFW Airport Officer David Wills.

It costs $15,000 to train each bomb dog team. The potential return on investment is priceless.

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