You see them at train stations, bus depots, airports and government buildings across the United States. They keep our country safe from attempts of terrorism while protecting the public from harm. Our four legged friends, otherwise known as bomb-sniffing dogs. Right here in NYC, MSA Security leads the industry with over 200 certified Explosive Detection Canine teams in the United States. The main focus of the handlers are to focus solely on explosives detection. The canine handlers have years of military and law enforcement training that allow them to meet the highest level of performance standards. MSA is designated by the Department of Homeland Security to work against terrorism with its technology.
All of the bomb sniffing dogs are handled by one owner exclusively, and are fully trained at a state-of-the-art facility in Connecticut according to the highest standards. MSA Security provides bomb dog teams nationwide in up to 48 states. We had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Wynn, the Director of Canine Training from MSA Security in Manhattan to learn more about the day in the life as a trainer of a bomb sniffing dog! A special thank you to Mike, Handler Tiffany and her 4 year old pup, Arnold, for showing us a day in the life of a bomb sniffing dog! Arnold is super friendly, and enjoys being pet by all the ladies in the MSA office! He also enjoys playing with tennis balls! This guy won over the hearts of the BBB team and we look forward to seeing him in the neighborhood!
Q1: How did you get your start working as a bomb sniffing dog trainer? My career goes back over 30 years. I was originally a patrol dog handler in law enforcement and then I became a narcotics dog handler. After 9/11, the 1st bomb dog we had on the training staff was trained by me back in 2002-2003.
Q2: What is the training process like, and has your dog sniffed out any potential threats? Our dogs are acquired from various volunteer and non-profit organizations such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind and Puppies Behind Bars The reason why we select dogs from these organizations is because of their social abilities and they are environmentally sound. Labrador Retrievers are MSA’s breed of choice for explosives detection because of their social adaptability in the operational environment. GLAB’s, or Golden Retriever and Labrador hybrid breeds are also preferred! This is just a professional opinion based on several hundred Labrador Retrievers we’ve trained. All dogs are spayed and neutered as puppies and between 6-12 months because they have less of a dog attraction which means they spend less time trying to find where other dogs have marked their territories. Puppies are raised in a family environment until they are a year old and they qualify for this type of work, those dogs begin their formal training. The formal training process starts when a dog is imprinted with explosive odors and are taught basic commands as well as their final response. They are also taught what they are going to have to search in an operational environment, and that takes about 45-60 days depending on the dog. This is done with an experienced dog handler who has the keen ability to train a number of dogs at one time. Some dogs don’t make it through the formal training process due to environmental issues. If we can’t overcome these issues, the dog is released to the organization and placed in a family environment. Most of the time, the dogs go back to the people who originally raised them.
Q3: What happens when your dog senses a dangerous situation? There are various responses an explosive detection dog is trained to do. What MSA does is use a passive response where the dog sits and looks at the handler for his reward upon detection of an explosive odor. When the dogs come from the various organizations for training, they have a level of obedience in them. Once the dogs begin their formal training, the only time we want a Labrador in our program to “sit” is when they are on explosive odor. We don’t care if the dog lays down. We don’t do a lot of formal obedience with our dogs because we want them to be active and be out searching. When the dog locates explosive odor, they will passively sit at the item. Part of the training program is to allow the dogs to conserve energy which is why you may see them laying down at the handlers’ feet in various locations when not in working mode. What would be better than to have a dog as a visible deterrent than to have a dog laying at his handler’s feet and be put into operational mode at any time? When we need the dog to work, the dog will always have enough energy and motivation to do so!
Q4: On your dog’s day off, what does he/she like to do for fun? It’s a single handler or single purpose system. Each handler has a dog assigned to them and during their off hours or their off working hours, the dogs are to be part of the house and part of the family environment. This makes a better working dog, because the dog gets the rest that it needs. Other organizations provide kennels and we find that they don’t get the rest that they need using this system.The family environment also keeps their social ability, and friendliness which is what we want.
Q5: How can the public tell when a dog is working? For we dog lovers and dog walkers, it can be hard to not stop and say hello! We want the handlers to allow the dogs to remain social even in the work environment. The only time a handler will probably ask you to let him perform his job is when the dog has to go to work. There is a location in the city that is a public terminal that people cross that big body of water and that environment is where there are a lot of people and a lot of human social interaction. We are also required to do periodic searches in the environment, and then the dogs can go back to being social and friendly.
Q6: Is there anything else that you would like to share? All of our dogs are “food reward” dogs. The only time the dog receives their meal of the day is when they find an odor that they are trained to find. We always have to do training exercises throughout the day so that the dog can get its full ration of food. A lot of times our dogs are offered treats and they can’t receive it. 16 hours a day, 7 days a week our dogs are trained in this way. We don’t deprive the dog of some of the normal things a dog wants such as a treat or a biscuit, but we make sure they receive them upon finding the odors.
We are not permitted to reveal any of the “top secret” locations around NYC where MSA dogs and their handlers are working. The bomb sniffing dogs and their handlers are working diligently 24/7 around NYC for our protection. What we can tell you is that the handlers and their dogs are quite friendly and approachable! If you are walking your dog in our ‘hood of Battery Park, Tribeca and FiDi, and if you or your dog want to interact with the working dog, they would be happy to say hello! As long as they are off the clock. We don’t want the boss to think they are slacking off!