Airports K-9 Sniffer Dogs


K-9 dogs

[Ca = K, Nine = 9] is a Latin origin; "canis" means "dog" and "canine" is a "dog-like" adjective that includes dogs and wolves. That's why the police call their dogs a K-9 unit.
K-9 dogs have many roles at airports. In this article I will give you a rich information about sniffer dogs history, k-9 dogs training, k-9 dogs breeds and the main tasks of K-9 dogs at airports.

I hope that you are a dogs lover, and enjoy reading this article on aviation professional website.


The History of Sniffer Dogs 

Some writers show that since the Middle Ages dogs have been used in law enforcement. But the real start was in the beginning of 1888, when the hunting dogs were used by Sir Scotland Yard to detect the odor  in the case of the Jack Ripper in Britain. Although dogs did not appear prominently in this case.  the British police and army continued to explore, using dogs to search for scent, and continued to train dogs with a strong sense of odor , and dogs were later used in the discovery of landmines during World War I (the war). First World). As well as tracking down ammunition caches in World War II.

After the remarkable success of sniffer dog s after World War II, the Finland Government began a landmine detection program based on the successful British program and experimented with small breeds such as Schnauzers and Spaniards.

As for the role of sniffer dogs in airport security - detecting explosives - especially, I read that in 1984 the United States started a program to detect explosives using dogs at Los Angeles International Airport, where one explosive detection team consisted of a beagle and an officer. The dog bomb detection method became effective after tests in 1990, with dogs passing 100 percent of 340 tests.

Prior to September 11, 2001, security checks of passenger baggage were carried out by means of security screening devices. At that time, dogs were rarely used for this task due to not enough trained dogs available.

After the terrorist attack - September 11, 2001. Baggage and cargo are inspected by TSA-approved explosive detection systems to detect aviation security threats such as explosives, etc. Additional robust security measures have been adopted whereby passenger and cargo bags are subject to close inspection either by hand searches or explosive detection dogs.

It's a great history. But is k-9 dogs training easy !!


K-9 Dogs Training

Sniffer dog  training is a very long process where trainer  begin to train a dog officer (handlers). Officers in charge of dogs undergo a long training process to make sure that they train the dogs at their best.

In order for the police to have an incentive to train a dog, the dog must first pass a basic obedience training course. it must be able to obey orders without hesitation to allow the officer in full control and direct the dog's power against the suspect.

 For the language of training, trained dogs in all countries are usually taught commands in the native language of the same country and dog training is initially used in that language to reinforce basic behavior. Then, it is easier for the officer to teach the dog new words / commands, rather than retrain the dog on basic commands .

This contradicts the widespread belief that sniffer dogs are trained in different languages. The truth is in one language so that the suspect cannot lead the dog against the officer, in fact it is impossible!

Dogs used in law enforcement are trained to be "single purpose" or "dual purpose". Single-purpose dogs are mainly used for back-up, personal protection and tracking.

In aviation security, especially in many countries, training a dog can take several months, including regular recertification, and the duration of the training varies depending on the type of dog and where it will work. For dogs intended for explosive detection, they are thoroughly trained and there is no way for error. Real explosives are used to train dogs, which can be both inconvenient and potentially hazardous.


Common K-9  Breeds


All dogs have the ability to scent odors. However, there are some Limitations on the endurance required to do scent work and the level of performance required to detect and track odors, as a result of which very short nasal breeds (e.g., pugs, Boston terriers, Pekingese, etc.)  are removed as explosive detection dogs. 

These are the most common breeds:

Class A: Patrol And Detection Dogs

These two breeds make up the majority of military and sniffer dogs because they are quick and powerful enough to catch and hold a suspect, and by training they become good dogs in detecting explosives, drugs, etc.

1-      Belgian Malinois  

Naturally protective but not overly aggressive. Malinois is active, driven and work-loving to. They are social and use well with multiple officer (handlers).

2-      German Shepherd

Energetic fun-loving, fearless and loyal officer (handlers), they are specifically breeding for military and law enforcement work. 

German shepherd dog was traditionally the breed of choice due to its long history of development for working ability.

Category B: Other common breeds

3-      The Dutch Shepherd

Loyal, hard-working and extremely active, they are often mistaken for German shepherds. They require a lot of physical training and mental exercises.

4-      Doberman Pincher

 A combination of speed endurance, loyalty and intelligence make them excellent guard dogs.

5-      Rottweilers

Smart, territorial and hard-working, Rottweilers are not fond of strangers. They are prone to health issues that make many unsuitable for patrol work.

6-      6-  Bouvier des Flandres

These fuzzy dogs are obedient, even-tempered and known for their tracking ability.

Bouvier des Flandres have also been bred for protective devotion to their handlers which can create focus difficulties for a dog team deployed in highly public areas.

Category C: Specialists

 Some law enforcement duties require dogs that work well in crowded people.

7-      Labrador Golden Retriever

When a friendly face is required, it's hard to go wrong with the countries' most popular breed. These powerful, intelligent dogs work well in crowded detection situation, such as in airports or at public gatherings 

K-9  Dogs Do 12 Tasks At Airports

Airports adopt many enhanced security measures such as TSA Pre-check using explosives detection dogs to through the faster lanes. But detect explosives is only one of the many incredible tasks detection dogs can perform at airports. Here are the main tasks of  airport dogs :


Task 1 : K-9  Stop The Trafficking Of Prohibited Wild Animals.

Wildlife service in many countries also relies on K-9 dog noses to detect wild animals smuggled by the illegal wildlife trade.

Task 2 : K-9 Prevent The Smuggling Of Ivory, Rhinoceros, And Other Animal Parts From Airports.

Many K-9 dogs trained in the art  of sniffing out ivory, rhino horn, and other poached creatures have been deployed in Kenya’s Mombasa port, thus adding a new mission to K-9 dog's track record.


Task 3: K-9 Find Stacks Of Cash.

CCDs (Currency Detection Dogs) most of them can be found at airports around the world identifying the illegal movement of money.

Task 4: K-9  Help Eradicate Malaria.

MMDs ( Medical Detection Dogs) in the United Kingdom is a more recent addition to the team of dogs working against the movement of undesirable things across borders.

With proven success at sniffing out cancer, parkinson’s disease, and other human ailments, this doggy skill was applied to malaria with a 70% success rate in initial tests. This method of disease prevention is still in its early stages, but it is looking very promising, especially when compared with the relatively slower method of using machines to individually test people and items. Recently, k-9 has a proven success at sniffing out COVID-19 in many airports.

Task 5 : K-9 Help Prevent The Invasion Of Plant And Animal Species.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is comprised of beagles trained specifically in the detection of unwanted food and agricultural products, typically found at baggage claim. Roughly 75,000 seizures are made per year in the US. Other countries, especially islands like New Zealand and Australia, have beagles diligently checking everything that lands at the airport, as one wayward plant or animal could wreak havoc on sensitive endemic environments. Beagles are favored for their small stature, friendly demeanor, and hyper-tuned sense of odor , and they enter the program from breeders, rescues, and shelters.

Task  6: K-9  Detect Explosives

As already mentioned, trained K-9 dogs detect explosives by sniffing out passengers, luggage and air cargo packages which passed through airport's security checkpoints.

Task 7 : K-9 Find Drugs.

Most people believe that the primary purpose of police dogs at airports is to find drugs, but they are mainly deployed to protect planes from bombs and ecosystems of invasive species. Dogs are trained to find multiple things that should not be there and drug ones.

Task 8: K-9  Find Contraband Electronics

These special police dogs are deployed in high-risk cases where terrorism or human trafficking can be at play.

 In addition to above tasks, dogs do the following tasks :


Task 9: Therapy Dogs Helping Passengers De-Stress

Therapy dogs in airports have became increasingly popular in recent years. In 2017,there were a confirmed number of 48 program. In 2018, the number increased to 58, and the movement is spread internationally .

 These special dogs are trained for the purpose helping passengers de-stress while waiting for their flights .


Task 10: Dogs Provide Excellent Customer Service To Airline Passengers

KLM provides personal lost and found service for its passenger, and one of the fabulous dogs in uniform takes the missing item  and hand it over to its owner through thousands of passengers.

 Task 11: Dogs Are One Of The Emergency Search And Rescue Team At Airports

The International Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends that the airport emergency plan should include a specialized team for search and rescue in case of aircraft accidents, and we find dogs on the team list.

Task  12: Dogs Keep Birds Flocks Away From Runways

The cute border collie dog whose job is to patrol the runway to protect planes  from birds flocks at Northern Michigan Airport in the USA.

Technology has evolved rapidly, but not as fast as a dog's nose. In the future, explosive detection dogs will be a key option in addition to current screening security measures for air passengers at most airports around the world. Dogs do not work for themselves or for the survival of their breeds. They work to protect and secure air passengers at airports and around the  world. Security and happiness. I  love dogs that is another fact.

Do you agree that K-9 dogs in aviation add value  by securing airports?



Maged Saeed AL-Hadabi

I’m Instructor / Maged Saeed Al-Hadabi. ​ Air Cargo / IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations / Safety Management System Senior Instructor, Auditor [ Yemen Airways] . Approved IATA DGR/ SMS Instructor by Yemen Civil Aviation Authority.

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