Real Explosives v Pseudo Scents – Bomb Dog Training

With my background as an explosive search dog handler and instructor I am fascinated in the recent rise of the availability of ‘pseudo’ scents. To most this is of no interest but any explo handler will tell you its a current hot topic.

It wasn’t something I ever had to contend with as I always had the availability of real sample scents. But with more bomb detection work being undertaken by private search dog teams, the pressures on training and the complexity of sample handling and storage there is a temptation to switch to the more manageable pseudo scents.

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Finding factual un-biased scientific information is still hard. We came across this published research which we thought we would share. I guess much depends on an individual teams access to explosive samples. But even where dogs are trained on live scents it is being suggested that pseudo scents could be used as a supplement to aid continuation training. This article would suggest that this is not a good option as handlers could be training two completely separate sets of scents.

Source: Springer Science + Business 2014

Canines trained on pseudo-explosives could not reliably identify the genuine article (and vice versa)

Genuine explosive materials are traditionally used to train dogs to detect explosives and to test their performance later on. However, challenges arising from the acquisition, storage, handling and transport of explosives have motivated the development of “pseudo-explosive” or “pseudo-scent” training aids. These products attempt to mimic the odour of real explosives, yet remain non-hazardous. The intent is that a canine trained on a pseudo-explosive would be able to detect its real-life analog, and vice versa.

When it comes to teaching dogs how to sniff out explosives, there’s nothing quite like the real thing to make sure they’re trained right. That’s the message from William Kranz, Nicholas Strange and John Goodpaster of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in the US, after finding that dogs that are trained with so-called “pseudo-explosives” could not reliably sniff out real explosives (and vice versa). Their findings are published online in Springer’s journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.


Coba, a 3-year-old chocolate lab and tactical explosives detector dog, chews contently on a tennis ball as David Sheffer, her handler and a dog trainer with Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind., explains the capabilities of the dog June 14 at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., during a demonstration of Coba’s abilities for 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers, role players and government civilians. Sheffer spent 10 days – from June 5 to 15 – escorting Coba to various companies and platoons across the brigade, which will soon select 25 handlers for training to lead a similar dog in Afghanistan when they deploy later this fall. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord)

Using randomised blind testing, Goodpaster’s research group tested how well a group of seventeen dogs were able to locate three types of explosives and their pseudo-versions: Single-base smokeless powderTNT and RDX-based plastic explosive (C-4). In general, the dogs trained on simulated explosives could sniff out the genuine article only 14 percent of the time. Similarly, dogs trained on real explosives responded to pseudo-explosives only 16 percent of the time.

On the whole, the animals only had a nose for the materials upon which they were trained. For example, dogs trained on ‘real’ explosives were able to locate them 81 percent of the time. Dogs trained with the ‘pseudo-explosive’ versions had a very similar success rate of 88 percent.

The failure of the dogs to be “cross-trained” does not mean that the pseudo-explosives contain the wrong ingredients. Goodpaster’s group determined via chemical analysis that the volatile compounds given off by pseudo-explosives consist of various solvents, additives and common impurities that are present in authentic explosives.

Ultimately, Goodpaster’s group states that ………..IMG_0345 (2)

“the exceptional sensitivity of the canine’s nose and the impressionable nature of its temperament have made canines a valuable tool when it comes to sweeping for hidden bombs and explosives. However, dogs trained on pseudo-explosives performed poorly at detecting all but the pseudo-explosives they were trained on. Similarly, dogs trained on actual explosives performed poorly at detecting all but the actual explosives on which they were trained.”

We would like to hear from handlers that have used pseudo scents and in particular those that have cross-trained using both live & pseudo samples.


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