- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
As Jip the Dog said in The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, "He smells like a very bad man to me."
This may just end up being the summer of the bomb-sniffing dog. Here’s a bit of war-dog news: There is a new breed of cunning canine being developed and integrated into bomb-detection squads — the vapor-wake dog.
I read about these remarkable dogs earlier this week in an article by The Hill‘s Jordy Yager, who got to spend some time with Owen (pictured above), one of the vapor-wake trained dogs now part of the U.S. Capitol Police Force right here in Washington, DC.
These dogs are more than just specially coached, they are "genetically bred and trained by Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine." This new technology doesn’t come cheap — each dog has a $20,000 price tag. But their olfactory abilities, as Yager reports, appear to be unparalleled:
[V]apor-wake dogs are taught to detect the scent plume of air that comes wafting off a person, such as a suicide bomber, wearing an explosive device. Whereas a standard explosives-detection canine is trained to sniff out a stationary explosive odor, a vapor-wake dog can detect the moving scent of an explosive odor, even in large, moving crowds with hundreds of competing smells.
And these dogs aren’t easily tricked or distracted. As Canine Training Supervisor Sgt. Charles Abernethy told Yager:
As a trainer you try to defeat the dog because it makes them better. … But these dogs are so intelligent that it leaves us scratching our heads at a loss for how we can defeat them. And we haven’t, but we’ve tried.
An interesting side note to this story: Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s has a war dog memorial. Described as a bronze sculpture, the memorial was donated by Betsy Putney in memory of her late husband, Dr. William Putney, a veterinarian who, in WWII, had been "the commanding officer of the Marine dog platoon that helped liberate the island of Guam." Dr. Putney wrote a book on war dogs, a memoir titled Always Faithful.