Most of the team are Labradors, a mild-tempered and clever breed of dog that can learn to sniff out 20,000 explosive scents.
The CIA's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 chose a different career path altogether, doing equally important work leading the blind and visually impaired. Zane visited our New York HQ as part of his training.
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