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The shortage of bomb-sniffing detection dogs in the U.S. and across the world is increasing, while demand is on the rise. In 2021, global terrorist attacks increased to 5,226. In many of these situations, explosive (bomb-sniffing) detection dogs could serve as a deterrent. The problem is there are not enough dogs to meet the growing need. 

NYPD Expands Canine Capabilities

As the largest and most populous city in the U.S., New York City, recently took a new step to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. The New York Police Department (NYPD) introduced an advanced explosive detection system that enables trained bomb-sniffing dogs to detect more substances than they can normally smell, such as radiation and other biological and chemical agents.  

The NYPD K-9 unit is now the first agency to use Transit Enhanced Detection Dog (TREDD) technology. Here’s how it works: A trained explosives detection dog wearing a harness that’s equipped with electronic sensors to help detect radiation or chemicals sends data directly to a mobile command post. The NYPD has shared TREDD information with the Pentagon and other partners to help detect terrorist threats everywhere.  

“All facets of detection are needed to combat the terrorist element that threatens the city on a daily basis,” says an NYPD sergeant who works with the K-9 unit. “The dogs are an essential asset that has a permanent place in protecting the public. They are a real live piece of safety equipment ready to be deployed at any time.”     

Airport canine. Dog sniffs out drugs or bomb in a luggage.
©Monika Wisniewska -

Shortage of Trained Dogs Threatens National Security

As the demand for U.S.-bred working dogs increases, the AKC is participating in efforts to help address this need. The AKC Detection Dog Task Force (DDTF) sponsored the AKC National Detection Dog Conference in Durham N.C. in August. The annual conference brings together key stakeholders to make plans to improve the availability of high-quality, American-bred-and-raised-and-trained dogs to protect national and public security. 

The federal government employs approximately 5,000 working dogs across four departments — the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State. But only 7 percent come from the U.S. The government agencies import most of their working dogs from Europe.  

Sheila Goffe, AKC vice president of government relations, testified at a congressional hearing about the dire need for trained explosive detection dogs saying, “Experts recognize that there is no better or efficient way to detect explosives than with highly, specially trained detection dogs. Since the terrorist attacks on 9-11, and subsequent attacks worldwide, global demand for this quality dog has skyrocketed.” 

Since 2016, the AKC Detection Dog Task Force has worked with experts in the federal government, the military, and police forces, as well as U.S. dog breeders and trainers, to reverse a chronic shortage of domestically bred working dogs qualified for use by government agencies.  

This includes working at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the procurement process and providing educational information and webinars to U.S. dog breeders, trainers, and puppy raisers about identifying, raising, and training puppies for explosive detection work. Explosive detection training for TSA typically takes between 24 and 32 weeks, along with additional training with an assigned handler in a variety of environments. 

A Labrador Retriever serving the transportation Security Administration (TSA) as an Explosive Detection Dog (EDD)
David Woo

The Public Face of Detection Dogs

German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois have historically been the most popular breeds by police forces. Many of these dogs are also trained to perform detection work.  

In recent years, however, other breeds have become popular for public detection work. These are primarily sporting dogs, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers, German Wirehaired Pointers, and Vizslas. Typically, these breeds are less intimidating to the public, and their incredible hunting instinct is easily transferred to searching for explosives.  

Whatever the dog’s breed, a properly trained dog can make a huge difference in protecting public safety. “Trained explosives detection dogs are totally invaluable, in my opinion, and should be bolstered and expanded to departments that do not have those assets in place,” says the NYPD sergeant.