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a dog of many talents 95

those brown napkins universally stocked in public toilets. There, as plain


as day, is a sizeable piece of duct tape, hastily plastered above the keyhole
of the clearly broken cabinet. It is out of place against the otherwise well-
maintained and clean bathroom. He pulls back the tape and opens the silver
compartment, revealing the bomb. In my hurry to perform wellor get
away from the crowd of observersId breezed right by this painfully obvi-
ous visual clue. If I had been looking more carefully, it wouldve been the
very rst thing I saw coming into the bathroom. But I hadnt been using my
eyes; I was relying on Haus to do the work and focusing all my attention on
him. My clear inexperience, my confusion ran right down the leash to the
dog. He knew the moment I gave up even as I was trying to hide it, and he
exposed me by sitting in the middle of the room and giving up his search.
It was a fast but effective lesson. Haus didnt trust me, and he revealed
not only my limits but also his own when I failed to give him the proper
guidance. Its a lesson I only learned by doing, but its at the heart of the
folly of all the poor or misguided decisions made by those who do not un-
derstand how to work with dogs or who have never gotten close enough to
see it for themselves.
Jakubin comes into the bathroom and relieves me of Hauss leash. The
dog cant get away from me fast enough. Jakubin is amused. Not so easy, is
it? he asks. His eyes are twinkling too.
If you know what to listen for, the sound is unmistakable.
The attuned human ear can hear when a dog has found the sought-after
odor usually long before he gives his nal alert. And depending on the
training and the kind of detection work, the dog will either sit at the source
of odor or lie down to the ground. For obvious reasons, search-and-rescue
dogs will bark. A practiced handler will recognize his dogs personal tells
the dog may twitch his ears or his movements may slow down and become
more deliberate, or he may even have an Im denitely on odor expres-
sionbut its really the sound that is the big giveaway. Its the deep, staccato
inhale and then the rush of a perfunctory and heavy exhale. It is the sound
of satisfaction. It is the sound of discovery.
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96 war dogs
The canine nose is a masterful creation; all earthly schnozes
1
are not cre-
ated equal, anatomically speaking. While the average dog has roughly 220
million scent receptors in his nasal cavity, the average human has around 5
million.
2
The canine sense of smell is a thousand times more sensitive than
a humans. One of the best visual analogies of the dogs acute sense of smell
is given by author Mark Derr in Dogs Best Friend: Unfolded and attened,
the smell receptors from the average dogs nose could cover it like a second
coat with hair dragging on the ground.
3
Even the way a canine nose functions is more developed than ours. A
dogs nose has four passages, two inner ones and two on the outside, almost
like gills. The inner canals pull in the scent and then exhale to the outer, so
that the exhaling air doesnt disturb the ground or source of the next odor,
allowing always for the intake of fresh scent. Humans, in contrast, have just
the two nasal passages, and what goes up comes back out again the same
way. (We can of course draw breath through our mouths when we ingest
or exhale oxygen, but it is not the best way to smell, although it is one of
the best ways to use our sense of taste for certain foodsby orthonasal,
or mouth, breathing. On the other hand, while dogs are great perpetra-
tors of mouth breathing, theyre not using it for scent. Though they have
good reason to do so. Dogs actually pant through their mouths to cool
off, whereas we humans sweat.) That always-damp and cool-to-the-touch
quality of the canine nose also has its purpose; moisture that is secreted
by mucous glands in the nasal cavity captures and dissolves molecules in
the air and brings them into contact with specialized olfactory epithelium
inside the nose.
4
Its not that we humans dont use our sense of smell, but as a sense its
powerful for very different reasons. Scent recalls memories and awakens our
emotional subconscious. We associate different odors, good and bad, with
people and placesand theres no accounting for taste in what we relish
either. My father, for example, loves the smell of a good barn populated
with fragrant livestock. As a family driving the New England interstates, we
inevitably passed open pasture, and as we did, my father would lower his
window to get his ll of the open air heavy with manure, while my sister
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a dog of many talents 97
and I groaned and pinched our noses. He was taking in the scent of his
childhood on the farm and all the memories that came with itwe children
of the suburbs were just smelling, well, shit.
Most people dont make a conscious effort to imprint particular or spe-
cial smells, to le them away for later usethey register more like back-
ground noise, though invariably certain things punch through the ether,
people and places we are reminded of by the power of scent. But perhaps
we should take our lead from dogs and program our brains to catalogue
smells in more proactive and useful ways. In one of the great old Disney
movies, The Parent Trap (with Hayley Mills and Maureen OHara), when
one of the girlsSusan, pretending to be her twin sister, Sharonmeets
her grandfather for the rst time, she sniffs the lapel of his jacket with such
earnest investigation that he pulls back. My dear, what are you doing?
he asks. To which she replies, Making a memory. She puts her nose back
to his tweedy chest, calling out the scents she identies. When Im quite
grown-up, she tells him, I will always remember my grandfather and how
he smelled of tobacco and peppermint.
5
Making a memory of a smell, or imprinting odor, is exactly how a
dog learns to seek out bombs, weapons caches, narcotics, missing persons,
and, sadly, human remains. The process involves training a dog to associate
odors with a reward. Dogs become visibly excited when theyve discovered
an odor they have been trained to detect. The less disciplined ones will cast
their heads back, looking, waiting, and watching for the Kong (or tennis
ball, or treat) they know is coming, too eager to contain themselves.
In this age of modern warfare and police work, dogs are trained to
detect homemade explosives. These bombs are potluck-style concoctions,
and while the recipes vary greatly, the ingredients are basically the same.
6

So each dog is trained onor should be trained ona handful of key
bomb-making ingredients. This catalog of explosive scents includes TNT,
smokeless powder, potassium chlorate, C-4 plastic explosive, detonating
cord, and ammonium nitrate. And in order for military trained detection
dogs to become certied, military regulations require that they meet a very
high accuracy rateexplosive-detection dogs must hit 95 percent accuracy,
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98 war dogs
and drug dogs must meet 90 percent accuracy. The key to this kind of
training is repetition and reinforcement. Maintaining prociency at such a
high rate requires a minimum of four hours of explosive-detection training
a week.
7
Whether or not this rate of accuracy also takes place in the arena
of combat has not been proven and may be impossible to quantify.
8
This is
at least in part due to the fact that there really is no way to assess how many
bombs or bomb materials go undetectedunless, of course, they go off
after a dog team has cleared an area. Whereas in a controlled environment,
when planted materials are used in training, their hiding spots marked and
known, those nds can be quantied and qualied.
A dog hunting for scent is like a linguist who, even when standing
before the Tower of Babel (or more practically speaking, an international
airport), can hear not only a cacophony of many tongues clamoring at once,
but who can pull apart the sounds to nd and comprehend the individual
voices.
Imagine a leaf floating down a creek. Shiny and wet,
it winks out from the moving water. At rst the leaf spins in lazy, loop-
ing circlesaround and around like a carnival ride. Then it meets with a
new current, picks up speed, and travels much farther and faster than you
thought possible. Powerful, unpredictable, this is the nicky prerogative of
the wind.
A rocky, dry path in the desert doesnt much resemble a stream, but
when the wind passes through the dust, moving around clusters of shrubs
and bushes, you can imagine how the analogy of a leaf on moving water
captures the movement of scent on airthe sensory path a dog must follow
and all the obstacles in between. The shrubs would be like rocks in the wa-
ter, parting the current and creating little eddies or pockets of scent. When
a dog following scent across the desert oor comes upon a bush, he might
pause and sniff around a little more, exploring the eddy created by wind,
searching for a stronger pool of the odor he is tracking.
In order to harness the power of a dogs natural scent ability, a handler
has to understand how a dog reads a scent trail, because its the handlers
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