Appendix B: Mine-Detection Dogs

To Walk the Earth in Safety: The United States Commitment to Humanitarian Demining
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
September 2002

Photo of a mine-detection dog and his handler at work in Bosnia-HerzegovinaDemining takes place in countries with a wide range of indigenous mine-action capabilities, and each country has unique terrain and particular cultural situations. While no single demining technology or demining technique will be successful in all scenarios, combinations of detection technologies and demining methods generally increase safety and efficiency and contribute to achieving international humanitarian demining clearance standards. The addition of MDDs to a demining program has proved to be an approach that works in many different scenarios, and dogs are particularly effective when combined with various manual and mechanical detection and clearance techniques.

A dog's olfactory capacity to find explosives has proved highly effective. MDDs are primarily drawn from two breeds: German Shepherds and Belgian Malois. Two other breeds of dog are used in small numbers or are believed to possess MDD potential: retrievers, such as Labradors, and scent hounds, such as Beagles. MDDs are trained to detect explosive-odor signatures, such as TNT, the scent of monofilament line, metallic wire used in booby traps and mines, or any combination of these. Dogs are trained to ignore other odors and distractions, and are rewarded when they alert their handler to an odor they are trained to recognize. Initial training lasts eight to 10 weeks, followed by another eight- to 10-week period of advanced training for the MDDs to bond with their handler. This latter period also allows the dogs to acclimatize to the country in which they have been chosen to work. Their extensive training in detection capabilities is crucial to identify nonmetallic or plastic-encased mines, demining near or on steel bridges and railroad tracks, and demining in iron-bearing laterite soils that render metal detectors virtually ineffective.

MDDs have proved to be highly effective, mobile, and affordable. There are approximately 620 MDDs either conducting operations or in training in 23 countries around the world; 162 of these dogs are in Afghanistan. Seventeen other countries in the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program use MDDs: Albania, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Eritrea, Honduras, Lebanon, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Oman, Rwanda, Somaliland, and Thailand. In addition, the U.S.-funded QRDF used MDDs in mine-clearance operations in Sri Lanka and Sudan during the spring and summer of 2002. Dogs are able to work in about 90 percent of the terrain where humans operate, whereas flails, rollers, and sifters—because of their design and operating limitations—operate in a mere fraction of all the types of terrain. Moreover, dogs are environmentally friendly, whether working agricultural lands or urban areas, whereas machinery and explosive charges can disturb or destroy areas where they are used.

The landmine community considers MDDs as a valuable and reliable demining resource. In many situations, when combined with manual or mechanical-demining techniques, dogs contribute greatly in expediting the return of mine-affected land, infrastructure, and other facilities to a safe and useful condition in a cost-effective manner.