Bomb-sniffing dogs VS fake bombs


This incident from Australia yesterday got me thinking. When authorities is confronted with a claimed bomb, or suspect packages, abandoned cars or other items that might possibly be some sort of bomb or IED, it seems it often takes bomb squad officers quite a long time to determine whether the suspected device is a actual bomb or not.

Sometimes cumbersome robots are deployed, othertimes bomb techs themselves spend hours working on things just to realize that, yet again, it was all a false alert.

My question is - wouldn’t it be much quicker to simply use a bomb-sniffing dog to make the initial determination of whether there are explosives present? No explosives, no bomb - no matter how many fancy wires and digital clocks counting down. AFAIK, most suspected bombs turn out to be completely innocuous, while those fake bombs sometimes encountered are made to look like a bomb, but rarely contains any actual explosives.

Since dogs clearly arent used all the time, and I suspect quite rarely (never seen them mentioned), I’m guessing there is a reason for this. Is my view of bomb-sniffing dogs to naive? Maybe they can’t reliable detect all types of explosives? Or maybe their failurerate is much to high? Anywho - anybody who can make it clearer for me?

Dogs are trained to find suspicious thing not exactly bombs as they can not differ from an original or a fake bomb they are trained to found things like bomb and the team than diffuses it.

If dogs were used, I would have just inserted the fake bomb up her rectum disguised as an suppository.

The dog sniffing around would then just be dismissed as either natural behaviour or a false positive.

Yeah, but I’m assuming these dogs are trained to sniff for the presence of explosives. So, no explosives means its either a fake bomb or just a misplaced parcel. So, a bomb sniffer dog should be able to tell the difference between a fake and a real bomb, if the fake bomb don’t contain explosives. (I’m not sure if this was the case in Australia, tough - not mentioned in the article…)

There are lots of different kinds of explosive, and not all of them smell. And the design of a bomb can easily preclude emitting an odor if it’s sealed up nice and tight.

Bomb-sniffing dogs are useful as a first-clue investigatory tool. They can say, “hey, I think I smell something bomb-like over there, you should go check it out.” But they are not universal bomb detectors.

That’s ridiculous. “Suspicious” doesn’t have a smell. Detection dogs are trained to respond to certain smells and not others. Drug-sniffing dogs can’t be used to detect bombs. Bomb-sniffing dogs can’t be used to detect drugs.

Also, sealed or not, it would be very difficult to eliminate all traces of the smell of the contents from the exterior of the sealed package. But yes, all kinds of things can be made into explosives, and it may be that a dog trained to respond to every possible explosive chemical will be useless in practice, because it might end up responding to all kinds of common products.

Could the maker of a fake bomb fool the dog by rubbing some gunpowder (or other dog-recognizable substance) on the workings of the device?

Yes, I’m certain that could be done, though to what end I’m not sure.

I think Tom means that if you are going to go with the OP’s idea of using the dog to save time by determining if the bomb is real or not, all the bomber would have to do is put a small harmless amount of explosives in the fake bomb to fool the dog. Then you are right back to square one of many man hours to secure and dispose of it.

Of course this is a WAG, but I’d guess that if a fake bomber had real explosives to fool a bomb dog, he’d be building real bombs and not fake ones.

Obviously they need to add a “fake bomb sniffing dog” to their K-9 roster to find these things.

One of the images from the Australia episode was of a suited up bomb guy and an eager beagle. ( sorry, no link )

Dogs trained to detect explosives are only trained to do so for 20 or so common ones IIRC, though my Google-fu is lacking and I can’t find the proof to back that fact up at the moment. If I’m wrong on that number it’s plus or minus five for standard training.

Meanwhile, the ATF lists more than 200 known explosives here, most of which the dogs have not been trained to detect:
(warning: pdf)

As such, you can see the problem. If the dog indicates there are explosives present, then it is bomb. If the dog does not indicate it, it can still be a bomb. Even explosives detectors from ICX/FLIR and Ahura Scientific don’t detect all 200+ known threats.

Sorry to be a bit late in replying to my own thread, just wanted to say thanks for the replies.

So - to sum up - there were two glaring omissions in my original thinking - dogs can’t detect more than a handful of explosives, so it is more or less useless as an indication, and even if they were of some use - every fake bomb out there would be smeared with a small quantity of gun powder or some such, defeating the purpose.

I figured there had to be some obvious reason why the poor chaps in the oh-so-insufficient armour had to step into the breach,as it were :slight_smile:

I’ve lived in a lot of places with bomb sniffing dogs; bomb sniffing dogs yield a lot of false positives. There are a lot of things that can trigger a positive for a dog. This isn’t a problem when you are hoping to prevent bombs coming into an area, a false positive is better than a missed bomb, but not that great for any other kind of analysis.

If you are not happy with bomb-sniffing dogs, then I know a great alternative; how about bomb-sniffing rats?

I’m pretty sure that if I’ve got a bomb strapped to my neck, that I want the bomb squad to take every precaution to diffuse it, instead of running Sparky by and saying, “he’s not hitting on that, so just take it off.”

Explosive detection dogs like all detection dogs are trained to locate odors specific to that task i.e. explosives, drugs, accelerants, bed bugs etc. A dog’s ability to detect different scent particles is estimated to be as much as 100,000 times more sensitive than our human sense of smell. So why the failure rate? The dog’s nose doesn’t lie, however there are many external conditions that may contribute to false positive indications as location, air currents and handler errors.

How many “fake bombs” do you suppose are being deployed out there?

This particular incident aside, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of bomb scares which involve “suspicious” packages are not intentional “fake bombs”, but are innocuous packages which get forgotten or misplaced, or contain something which looks enough like it could be part of a bomb (either on the outside, or in an X-ray) that it triggers a response.

You never have any idea why the dog responds, or fails to respond in the presence of a suspected bomb. They’re dogs, they can’t talk, and if they could, some of them lie.