Most of us working in the overseas contractor biz will come into contact with a working dog team occasionally. You might work with a Narcotics Detection Dog (NDD) or an Explosives Detection Dog (EDD). You may also run across a Cadaver Dog, a.k.a Human Remains Dog (HRD).
No matter which type of team you are in contact with, there are some similarities that you might not know about. Also, here are some things that can help the dog be as successful as possible.
The Nose Knows...
1. All dogs, no matter the breed, have noses that are thousands of times better than ours. A good example of just how good is this...
If we were to walk into a pizza joint, we (humans) would likely smell pizza. Not any specific kind, just pizza.
If Canis Familiaris (that means dog) were to walk into said pizza joint, they would smell pizza, too. They would also smell every individual topping offered. They would smell the three types of cheese. They would smell the tomato sauce and garlic butter (this is making me hungry).
They would also smell the Polo aftershave that Guido put on this morning, the syrup for the pop machine and the little mints they put in the urinals (don't eat those, by the way).
This is why drug traffickers have such a hard time masking the scent of the 20 kilos of Colombia's finest. Attempts to cover-up the odor only succeed in adding more scents for the dog to pick from. Dog's can take in multiple odors and distinguish them individually, not just the entire pizza like we can.
Dog Days of Summer
2. Dogs can't sweat. Here in the desert, we are all sweating buckets just to stay cool. Imagine wearing a fur coat and only being able to sweat from the soles of your feet and by wagging your tongue around. Now you understand why the dogs will work for a couple of minutes and then head for the A/C. It's not because the handler is lazy (even if they are), it's to keep the dog from going into heat stress and possibly even dying.
Plus, if the dog's mouth is open because it's panting, it's not breathing through it's nose and sniffing.
Keep Your Hands To Yourself
3. Even some single purpose dogs are trained in bite work. It can help build the dog's confidence and drives during training and it's good exercise for dog's that spend a lot of their time in kennels or crates. If you ask the handler to pet Fido and they say no, don't get butt hurt, they are probably saving you from four puncture wounds to the wrist and a trip to the contractor's med shed.
If a team is working, it's usually best not to get the dog used to interacting with every person it sees, making it difficult to get the dog focused on the task at hand. After the shift is over, ask if you can meet Lassie and you'll probably be ok.
Remember that dogs aren't perfect and their handlers definitely aren't. We still make mistakes and a good handler will be the first to admit it. Dog's can be a tremendous asset if deployed correctly and a little understanding on your part goes a long way to making that happen.
~Frazier D Civilian Contractor EOD K-9 Correspondent
Frazier D was a police officer for 14 years, 8 as a K-9 handler. He is currently a Civilian Contractor bomb dog handler in Iraq.