How Do Dogs Detect Explosives?

We’ve all seen them before. Dogs with bulletproof vests, or with policemen in tow. Dogs that go around sniffing bags, and looking for narcotics and explosives. It’s easier to guess how dogs can locate narcotics, because they have a distinctive smell. But, how do dogs locate explosives?

A recent study by Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis School of Study investigated how dogs detect explosives. The results of the study found that the scent of the explosives is actually what the dogs look for. Explosives, especially those in C-4, have a distinct scent of all of the combined chemicals. When they are being trained, “Bomb-sniffing dogs” are trained to recognize the chemical compounds present in most bombs and explosives, and trained to give a specific reaction to them. This might include barking, or lying down next to the explosive.

The results of this study called traditional methods of training into question, for a couple of reasons. If the dogs are tested in training to find a fake C-4 explosive that only contains some non-harmful chemicals, it might be harder for them, because it only contains some of the scents that they are looking for. Some of the non-explosive chemicals that are given off by C-4 have the same scent of those present in everyday plastic objects, like electrical tape and PVC pipes. Therefore, the scientific team has recommended that dogs be trained with the actual explosives, not the mimic ones, in order to obtain the best results.

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