Houndland Security: Superbreed Dogs Track Moving Terrorists

‘Vapor wake’ dogs follow bomb-bearing human targets through crowded public spaces.

Houndland Security SIZE.jpg

Houndland Security: Superbreed Dogs Track Moving Terrorists
Thanks to vapor wake dogs like Izzy, it sucks (even more) to be a terrorist. (Photo: CBS News)

An eager black dog named Izzy winds his way through the crowds at Los Angeles International Airport in search of a plainclothes police officer hauling a carry-on bag full of explosives. Izzy is part of a brave, new generation of K-9 specialists, so-called “vapor wake” dogs trained to detect bombs attached to a person on the move.

While traditional K-9 dogs have mastered the art of detecting mysterious packages or luggage packed with explosives, those packages had to be stationary.

But as the coordinated terrorist bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005, and 2009’s foiled underwear bomber in Detroit illustrate, moving targets are often behind the horror and chaos of terrorist attacks.

Michael Downing, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Chief of Counter-Terrorism, told CBS News: “With the K-9 program, the training was always nose down, looking at articles, suitcases, abandoned backpacks, but the recognition is that people carry bombs and they’re moving targets.”

After the 2009 underwear bomber scare, security professionals changed their strategy and began working with the veterinary college at Auburn University in Alabama. The dogs undergo a rigorous six-month education in obstacle courses until they are comfortable scrambling over baggage, searching under counters, and detecting and chasing down a vapor trail.

Rather than detecting a single explosive ingredient, vapor trail dogs pick up hundreds of molecules left in the “wake” of someone carrying explosives.

Auburn spokesman John Pearce said only three out of 10 dogs per class make the cut. The graduates are currently being used in cities nationwide, inspecting cargo at airports and patrolling city streets.