But an investigation by NBC 5 shows that many four-legged canines have failed critical detection tests in major airports across the United States.
“We rely on K-9 teams a lot more now than we ever have in the history of aviation security,” aviation and security expert Jeffrey Price told NBC.
NBC 5 in Texas reports that records obtained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) show that K-9 teams failed annual certification tests at large U.S. airports more than 50 times between 2013 and 2015.
Many reportedly failed to find explosives, while others had too many false alarms that could cause unnecessary airport evacuations.
“Our primary job is to find an explosive, as a dog team, but that dog believes its primary objective is to get that toy that’s in the handler’s pouch,” John Pearce, who used to help oversee training for the TSA told NBC.
With sniffer dogs widely used across the world, including Canada, the findings raise concern over security at airports.
“Dogs have always been considered the gold standard in explosive detection. So when you’re considered the best, you better be the best,” Price said.
Are explosive detection teams getting the suitable training needed to avoid fatal disasters?
“If a team does not meet TSA’s rigorous guidelines, it is decertified and restricted from working,” the TSA wrote in a statement to NBC.
“The team must successfully meet certification standards before returning to search duties. Dog teams that are unable to return to TSA’s high standards are subject to removal.”
One expert said the main reason sniffer dogs fail the certification test is that the people training them are not setting enough time to focus on explosive detection.
And unless they focus on locating test explosives frequently, sniffer dogs may become disinterested.
“You need to convince that dog that there’s a reason to work,” Pearce said.