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FBI Working Dogs

The Police Unit's working dogs train continuously to detect thousands of explosive combinations and protect FBI facilities.


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My name is Steve Hall. I’ve been with the FBI K-9 program since day-one. This is Dora, our newest dog. She started on duty last December.

These are explosives detection canines. They can pick up about 19,000 different explosive combinations that are out there that anybody can make up. The FBI uses them to make sure their facilities are safe.

These dogs…we only use Labs because they are nice, calm, friendly dogs. The dogs need to be able to work out with other people. It’s not always running into a building that’s been evacuated because of a bomb threat. They’re working out with the general public every day. So they need to be friendly dogs. They need to be calm dogs.

We take them home with us every night. They are a member of the family. They do everything that we do. They even go on vacations with us at times.

Slate: The FBI Police have 15 dogs; five work at Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

These dogs train every day of their life. We use a food reward system, unlike a play reward with a ball or a rope or a chew toy. They work to eat. We hide something, they find it, they get fed. They’re not getting fed out of a bowl. Every piece of food that comes to them comes from our hand.

I’ve hidden a—about the size of a quarter—piece of TNT somewhere under a car and her nose is going to find it.

If I see anything that I think I want her to target that she’s not targeting I place my hands, she follows my hand, just like a line. She’ll follow it wherever it goes.

Something’s bugging her here. Where is it? Good girl.

The dog will stop and set and will not move from there now until I do something for her. First thing I tell her, “Good girl,” so I know that she knows what she did. Then I give her some food out of my hand. See what she’s showing me. I put something right there in the trunk. A small piece, inside. Even though the trunk is closed, there’s still odor that comes out of there. She knows it’s in there. So I stop and I say, “Where is it?” and she tells me exactly where it is. Problem is once you find it, she’s going to want to stay there.

Slate: FBI working dogs train 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We have to work them all our days off, if we’re sick. Whatever. It has to be done because she wants to eat. And you can’t all the sudden just feed her. It’s going to throw them off. My retired dog at home would not eat out of a bowl for at least two weeks after she retired. He thought it was a trick.

If you work all the time that’s not fun. You gotta have play time. Relaxation time. They want to play. They’re a dog. Make them into a soldier and they’re not having any fun and what good is it to come to work. They get to come to work and interact with other people. People love them, and they love that. They love the attention. They just want to play and have a good time and in the process make their owner happy, find a few things and get fed.

Slate: FBI dogs can detect 19,000 different explosive combinations.

Things we use are the real things. It’s the real dynamite. The real TNT. All the stuff you hear about. All the gun powders and all the things that are out there. You use the real thing because that’s what they’re going to be trying to find in the real world.

This program started at the FBI in 1999. Prior to that time the FBI didn’t have their own K-9s. They contracted for a few years, then in ‘99 we felt the need for them. And now, since 9/11 everyone is trying to start their own explosives program.

So we’re coming up on our 10th year and we’re just getting bigger all the time. We started out with me and we're going on now to 15 dogs and more to come in the next few years.