In the past few decades, airports and passengers around the globe have enlisted the help of man’s best friend. For our well-being, safety and security, who better than our four-legged friends to do what we cannot-1) Use an extraordinary sense of smell (that even scientists cannot explain) 2) be our eyes, and 3) calm our nerves.
A long history
The United States had an unofficial canine war force in World War I. In 1942 they would officially be recognized as the Dogs for Defense, and the recruits would become known as the K-9 Corps. It’s also worth mentioning the heroic efforts of dogs utilized by the American Red Cross during the First World War. Many of the dogs searched for wounded soldiers, provided messenger and delivery services, and even carried heavy packs containing ammunition and rations through enemy territory. Quite often, they were stationed as guards at strategic locations. 140 years later, the Red Cross still uses therapy dogs today. These dogs and their owners volunteer in shelters and nursing homes across the country and in hospitals around the world.
And while dogs have been used in warfare dating back to ancient times, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when the USDA asked for help with agriculture detection and the first beagles began clocking in at U.S. airports.
Currently, there are five areas where canines are utilized at airports globally. They include security, detection of medical issues, assistance with disabilities, emotional support, and wildlife deterrents.
Examples of these include sniffing out bomb threats, detecting people infected with the COVID-19 virus, seeing-eye dogs, anxiety relief for those afraid to fly, and keeping animals such as geese from colliding with aircraft. Whew! And that’s just some of the tasks.
Almost any type of dog can become a service dog. Temperament is the most important factor. Top breeds for this work include boxers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and poodles.
Labrador retrievers, German shorthaired pointers, German wirehaired pointers, Vizslas, and golden retrievers are the more popular choices for explosive detection work.
For those caught with illegal contraband, drugs, or fruits and veggies, it might be an adorable beagle that makes the bust. The Beagle Brigade as they are known, can be found working at airports daily in their adorable vests alongside their handlers.
Every year training centers receive hundreds of potential recruits. The little ones arrive between the ages of 10 weeks to 3 months. Not only must they have a high success rate in identifying items, but they must also have no fear of things like escalators, sliding doors, etc.
Regardless of the breed, all are required to complete an estimated 6-week training program. Those that fail the training are found good homes. The same goes for retirees. Generally, most of these hard workers need a good retirement home by the age of nine. If you are interested in adopting, please contact your local airport and/or search for adoptable service dogs.
Cute but please don’t touch
While it can be tempting to want to pet the dogs or interact/offer a treat, it’s important to recognize they are doing their job, and breaking their focus is not encouraged. Snap a picture if you must but admire them from afar as they go about their day.