Team K9: the CIA's 'Top Dog' Explosives Sniffers

Hand-selected K9 ‘agents’ are an important part of the CIA, sniffing out explosives and ensuring everyone stays safe. Most of the CIA team are Labradors, a mild-tempered and clever breed of dog that can learn to sniff more than 19,000 explosive scents.  

Heide the CIA puppy
Heide can sniff out thousands of explosives


The 16-week training course starts with a six-week ‘imprinting’ class where K9s learn about explosives and are matched with a trainer. Labradors are kept on a strict kibble diet. One of the first things pups learn is to sniff on command. 


Freya learns to sniff for explosive scents
Freya learns to sniff for explosive scents


After initial training, the dogs and their handlers work with CIA Special Protection Services officers on intense, one-on-one training for 10 weeks to learn how to find hidden explosives in automobiles or luggage. Their mission then begins. K9s are deployed worldwide to sniff out threats to agents and CIA buildings. 


Labradors like Indigo are usually motivated by food
Labradors like Indigo are usually motivated by food


The CIA training doesn’t just apply to Labradors or bomb-sniffing dogs. The agency has learned how to train many types of dogs by following 10 simple rules that include making it fun rather than forcing dogs into a behavior.

Trainers use whatever motivates each dog - toys, treats, silly voices - to maintain attention. While Labradors may be more food oriented, Shepherds are often more toy motivated. 


Nicole signals she may be catching on to the training
Nicole signals she may be catching on to the training


Dogs let off signs that they are beginning to understand what they are being taught. A cocked ear or a lean toward the object they need to fetch indicates understanding.

A handlers’ mood can affect canines, so the CIA keep the training upbeat and take rest breaks. Pups have good days and bad days too, so trainers stop early when dogs get frustrated. The key is to end lessons on a positive note.


Lulu wanted a career change
Lulu, a pacifist, couldn’t give a tail wag about explosives training


Some dogs turn their nose up at sniffing explosives. After weeks of training, cajoling and dog treats, the CIA had to admit that Lulu’s heart just wasn’t in her job. The 18-month old pup ‘retired’ in 2019 and was adopted by her handler so she could spend her days chasing squirrels and dreaming about dog biscuits. “We’ll miss Lulu, but this was the right decision for her,” the CIA said.

Zane the seeing eye dog
Zane serves his country in a different way


Zane, who has his own Instagram account, chose a different career path altogether, doing equally important work leading the blind and visually impaired. Zane visited SPYSCAPE’s New York HQ as part of his training. 

Team K9: the CIA’s ‘Top Dog’ Explosives Sniffers

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Hand-selected K9 ‘agents’ are an important part of the CIA, sniffing out explosives and ensuring everyone stays safe. Most of the CIA team are Labradors, a mild-tempered and clever breed of dog that can learn to sniff more than 19,000 explosive scents.  

Heide the CIA puppy
Heide can sniff out thousands of explosives


The 16-week training course starts with a six-week ‘imprinting’ class where K9s learn about explosives and are matched with a trainer. Labradors are kept on a strict kibble diet. One of the first things pups learn is to sniff on command. 


Freya learns to sniff for explosive scents
Freya learns to sniff for explosive scents


After initial training, the dogs and their handlers work with CIA Special Protection Services officers on intense, one-on-one training for 10 weeks to learn how to find hidden explosives in automobiles or luggage. Their mission then begins. K9s are deployed worldwide to sniff out threats to agents and CIA buildings. 


Labradors like Indigo are usually motivated by food
Labradors like Indigo are usually motivated by food


The CIA training doesn’t just apply to Labradors or bomb-sniffing dogs. The agency has learned how to train many types of dogs by following 10 simple rules that include making it fun rather than forcing dogs into a behavior.

Trainers use whatever motivates each dog - toys, treats, silly voices - to maintain attention. While Labradors may be more food oriented, Shepherds are often more toy motivated. 


Nicole signals she may be catching on to the training
Nicole signals she may be catching on to the training


Dogs let off signs that they are beginning to understand what they are being taught. A cocked ear or a lean toward the object they need to fetch indicates understanding.

A handlers’ mood can affect canines, so the CIA keep the training upbeat and take rest breaks. Pups have good days and bad days too, so trainers stop early when dogs get frustrated. The key is to end lessons on a positive note.


Lulu wanted a career change
Lulu, a pacifist, couldn’t give a tail wag about explosives training


Some dogs turn their nose up at sniffing explosives. After weeks of training, cajoling and dog treats, the CIA had to admit that Lulu’s heart just wasn’t in her job. The 18-month old pup ‘retired’ in 2019 and was adopted by her handler so she could spend her days chasing squirrels and dreaming about dog biscuits. “We’ll miss Lulu, but this was the right decision for her,” the CIA said.

Zane the seeing eye dog
Zane serves his country in a different way


Zane, who has his own Instagram account, chose a different career path altogether, doing equally important work leading the blind and visually impaired. Zane visited SPYSCAPE’s New York HQ as part of his training. 

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