We depend upon bomb dogs to help protect us from terrorist attacks. Training them can be tricky. To help trainers and handlers, researchers have developed a real-time vapor analysis device called a Vapor Analysis Mass Spectrometer to help trainers and handlers understand what a dog detects when searching for explosive materials. When training a dog for any kind of scent work, it is important to hide items that are not scented as well as items with the target scent on them. Bomb dog trainers and handlers found that in some cases the dogs were indicating scent on the non-scented items. What the Vapor Analysis Mass Spectrometer showed in these cases that the dogs were correct because the non-scented items had picked up scent that drifted from the scented items.
By using the Vapor Analysis Mass Spectrometer during training, handlers and trainers will better be able to determine how accurate the dogs are in detecting explosive material.
The lesson from this research applies to all types of scent work with dogs. It shows us that items handlers think are not contaminated may be contaminated. Ultimately, it means that whoever handles scented items and non-scented items for training must take extra precautions to ensure that non-scented items are not contaminated. This can be especially tricky when training dogs in search and rescue where the handler has no control over the elements (weather, etc.) that can cause scent to drift.