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Are dogs the answer to lax airport security?

Could dogs have prevented Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab from boarding a plane with explosives hidden in his underwear?

CNN asked the question yesterday — the answer to which is, with enough properly trained dogs, probably.

But explosives-detecting dogs, the report points out, aren’t generally trained to sniff out humans, and having them do so might raise some privacy concerns.

Still, those quoted in the report say, something as low-tech as dogs could be our best solution to the problem.

“The fact that this individual showed up with a one-way ticket, purchased with cash and no checked baggage — he should have been pulled aside,” said security expert Larry Berg, a consultant with Berg Associates. “And at that point, if inspected by a dog, he literally could have been detected.”

“A well-trained dog and a very good, well-trained handler can find explosives with little or no false alarms,” said trainer Patrick Beltz said. “And if they had been doing it, it might have deterred him from trying to get on the plane in the first place.”

About 700 bomb-sniffing dogs currently work at U.S. airports, and they are trained to detect up to a dozen different explosive compounds, including PETN, the compound that AbdulMutallab is alleged to have smuggled aboard Northwest flight 253 to Detroit on December 25.

The report also looks at research underway at Auburn University in Alabama, where dogs are being used to sniff not people, but the air they leave in their wake when they pass by. The Auburn trainers believe their dogs can detect very small traces of explosives and then follow the trail to the person carrying a bomb.


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time December 31, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Well, hmm. On the one hand we have $100,000-plus machines that take several people to operate, snap what are basically virtual nude photographs of all of us (but of course there’s no chance those will be abused, right?), and may be rendered obsolete by the next innovation in explosives. On the other hand we have dogs who apparently cost somewhere between $6,000 and $7,000 per year in training and care, who enable us to keep our (virtual) clothes on, and who can be re-trained as needed. Of course they have to go outside to do their business, but human technicians need breaks, too. And they may need to be a bit overly familiar in their sniffing activities–something most of us don’t like. It would seem to make sense to use the dogs and keep a few of the machines around for people who are terrified of dogs, violently allergic, or don’t want to be around the dogs for religious reasons. I think the dogs would be a lot more impersonal in a lot of ways. Of course I have a friend who predicts that we’ll soon be disrobing for our flights and taking to the air in hospital gowns.

Comment from bluhawkk
Time December 31, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I was wondering the same thing about using dogs.
I suspect that terrorists, knowing dogs were being used to sniff out explosives, would find ways around such as adding various heavy scents to confuse the dogs nose.

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time December 31, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Just in the past year I have read so much about dogs sniffing ALL kinds of things, from mold and drugs and arson-fuels, to cancer and high blood sugar and impending death. This is more than just pop “dogma” — I really believe that there is something going on here that we humans are just finally exploring and discovering. As for me, I would truly welcome a crotch-sniffing dog than some off-site pervert’s jolly about scanning my virtually nude body. Meanwhile, whenever possible, buses and trains and my auto and my own two feet are just fine transports, thank you.

Comment from ann
Time January 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Dogs are the way to go!

Years ago (before Robert Reid’s incident with his shoe) my ‘loafer’ set off alarms.

Six officers, both Houston Police and TSA, interrogated me for hours.

However, that one shoe would/could not go through without setting off the alarm.

Then they said – “we have to bring in the dog”.

A german sherpherd arrived (all business, no tail wagging) and he cleared me and my shoe so that we could get on a flight.

Now why did this multi-million equipment fail – false positive – and this dog didn’t?

$6,000 per dog is cheap – at this rate we could afford a dog for every passenger in lieu of our present outrageous expense when safety cannot be guaranteed.

(Oh, and if you don’t like dogs for one reason or another, then, take a train or a bus.)