HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesMaking Scents: APL Develops Training Aids for Explosive-Detecting Dogs 

April 14, 2014

Making Scents: APL Develops Training Aids for Explosive-Detecting Dogs


Artist's rendering of SSUSI
An explosives-detection team patrols the concourse at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center.
Credit: JHU/APL

Working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, the Asymmetric Operations Sector’s Doan Trang Vu has developed a novel process for producing safe, effective, and inexpensive canine training aids for homemade explosives (HMEs).

Terrorists tend to favor HMEs because they can be made from readily available materials. Some HMEs, such as triacetone triperoxide and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, are considered too sensitive to be stored and handled by field-deployed explosive detection dog teams for use in training. The limited availability and high price of these types of training materials present a significant logistical burden for most security and law enforcement agencies, and hinder field-deployed teams’ access to these HMEs for regular training.

The APL-developed process produces non-detonable training aids that are free from extraneous odors—such as those from solvents—that can lead to improper odor imprinting and lack of generalization to the pure, or “neat,” HME. The APL aids produce pure HME odor at higher levels than a much larger quantity of neat (detonable) material and exceed current shelf-life and usage-duration requirements. The non-detonable nature and low cost of the training aids will provide field-deployed teams with greater access to these HMEs, allowing them to train more frequently in their operational environment.

The APL-developed aids can be disposed of after a single use, providing trainers with the assurance that the material they’re using to train their dogs is uncontaminated. The targeted cost for each aid is $5–10 per use—significantly lower than any other commercially available training aids—and they have also proven more effective than more expensive commercial alternatives.

“With the high cost of [commercial] training aids, smaller agencies often struggle to achieve optimal training frequency within their budget constraints. The training aids APL developed are more reliable and much less expensive,” says Michael House, APL’s manager for DHS S&T, Explosives Division Canine program. “Anytime trainers have a free hour or so, they can execute an HME training mission with their dog in their operational duty station.”

The APL team hopes to expand the process to include traditional explosives (not just homemade). They may also begin developing a “common denominator” training aid that covers several conventional explosives and is non-detonable, so that fewer training aids are needed to cover the explosive threats of concern. DHS is continuing its independent laboratory analysis of Vu’s manufacturing process to ensure that it is commercially viable while further evaluating the performance of the training aids through canine testing.

DHS and APL are also working closely with APL’s Office of Technology Transfer to move the aids into the marketplace as soon as possible.

Media contact: Gina Ellrich, 240-228-7796 or 443-778-7796, Gina.Ellrich@jhuapl.edu