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Q: Bomb Dogs ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Bomb Dogs
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: dizwarner-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 20 Nov 2002 06:08 PST
Expires: 20 Dec 2002 06:08 PST
Question ID: 111217
I am writing an article on bomb dogs.  I would like to learn as much
as possible about the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms
Anti-Terrorism Program in Front Royal, VA.  I would like to know the
1) number of dogs being trained annually prior to and since 9/11, 2)
any change in the number of countries participating, including which
countries, prior to and since 9/11, 3) the number of dogs being
trained for
work in US and abroad, and whether more dogs are being deployed in the
US since 9/11, 4) the capacity of breeding programs and training
programs to keep up with demand, 5) physically, what does Front Royal
and BATF operations look like: hilly? flat? forested? number of acres
BATF trains on, what the buildings and grounds look like, the barracks
trainees and their dogs stay, the number of kennels and what their
housing looks like, the number of staff the program employs, the
typical training of the dog and handler trainers, and chemists, and
any contact names I
could call.  I am not seeking classified or security information,
though I would like to know if cars pass through a security gate or
check point in and out of the facility.
Subject: Re: Bomb Dogs
Answered By: bananarchy-ga on 20 Nov 2002 15:13 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dizwarner – This definitely an interesting question, and I was
surprised at how little documentation the training facility has, aside
from the occasional propaganda notice in local newspapers.  First, a
brief overview of the facility, given by its website:

In 1969, the Customs Service conducted a study to determine how
feasible it was to use dogs in narcotic detection.  When the study
proved overwhelmingly how effective canine units were, acquisition of
dogs began in early 1970.  In March of 1970, temporary training
grounds were established at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio,
Texas.  In 1973, having proven the effectiveness of dogs in detecting
heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and hashish, an independent facility was
constructed just outside of Washington, DC.  The Canine Enforcement
Training Center, built in Front Royal, VA, continues to be the premier
training site for US Customs’ narcotic- and bomb-sniffing dogs. (1)

“Based on the success of this program and the fact that the ATF
investigates the majority of all bombings in America, the agency used”
the prior success of dogs and their olfactory senses “to create the
Explosives Detection Canine Program in 1992.  This program was
implemented at the request of the State Department, which needed dogs
to send to foreign governments in support of their anti-terrorism
efforts, as well as to protect American travelers abroad. All of these
dogs are able to detect minute quantities of explosives, and can find
firearms and ammunition hidden in luggage, in vehicles and on people,
as well as buried underground.  Much of the initial canine training
was done at facilities owned by the Connecticut State Police. But this
changed in 1995 when the ATF entered into an agreement to share the
facilities at the US Customs Canine Enforcement Training Center, a
250-acre complex located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Front Royal,
VA. The ATF is now constructing its own administration building on
site - 26,000 square feet - which will house classrooms and a training
area large enough to accommodate three canine training classes
simultaneously.” (2)  (I should add that the facility has been
completed, and is now the ATF’s own site, on which bomb-sniffing dogs
are given a completely different training program than drug-sniffing

Now, to address your specific points:

“The CETC currently has a staff of 43, which consists of instructors,
animal caretakers, storage specialists, and administrative personnel.
The Center's average canine population is between 100 to 150 dogs on a
daily basis, with a yearly training output of 90 canine enforcement
teams.” (1)  These numbers are for drug-sniffing dogs; the data for
bomb-sniffing dogs is a bit more nebulous.  In general, the facility
is largely at capacity for training more dogs: the training process is
grueling, requiring twelve weeks for the basic curriculum, and then
requiring individual agents to acquaint themselves with the dogs.  Add
to this the extreme scarcity of physically capable dogs (roughly one
in a hundred meets the EXTREMELY stringent standards of the ATF) (2),
and you can see why the training facility is not exactly one of mass
production.  The numbers publicly released by the ATF state that there
are currently 160 dogs, which since 1992 have been trained and
certified for use by 10 different countries, including Italy, Israel
and Australia. (2)  Since 9/11, no further information has been
disseminated by any major political office, but since the evidence
points to the facility approaching saturation, it seems unlikely that
“production” would have increased.  To deal with increasing demand,
however, “In 1991, Congress approved funding for the facility
improvement plan. The actual construction and renovation of the
facilities began in 1993. This plan has currently provided the CETC
with upgraded utilities (electrical and water), a new 100-run kennel
building, a laundry facility, a training building, a small arms firing
range, vehicle training areas, and improved training roads. A new
academic building was opened to provide much improved classroom
facilities. Also, construction will begin to improve the canine
isolation and quarantine facility.” (1)
The facility at which the Front Royal training ground is located was
once used as land for cattle grazing.  As such, it tends to be rather
non-descript:  “At that time, the training operation took possession
of 240 acres of property that was formerly a beef cattle research
center, and prior to that, a U.S. Cavalry Remount Station. The
property consisted of several hay barns, cattle stalls, large
pastures, and wooded areas. Over a period of several years, these
facilities were renovated into administrative offices, classrooms, and
kennel buildings.” (1)  It is a 250-acre complex, with the ATF’s
facility comprising approximately 26,000 square feet, employing 43
people.  Unfortunately, the website does not mention the presence or
absence of a gate on the site.  However, since the operation is not
classified, and does not technically belong to the military, it stands
to reason that security would most likely be on par with a police
academy: if you wanted to gain entrance to look around, I can see no
reason why they would stop you.  Failing that, under the FOIA, you
could request documentation from the ATF or US Customs services for a
nominal fee.

The training program is extensively detailed:  “Recognizing that it
was impossible to train a dog to detect all 19,000 known explosive
compounds, the ATF managed to classify the explosives into five
distinct families. From this, they identified 20 explosive odors on
which to train their dogs. By using pure samples of the major
explosive compounds in each chemical family, the ATF is able to have
their dogs recognize any one of the 19,000 explosive mixtures.” (2) 
“During a typical training day, a dog smells an explosive odor 125
times. The dog is never fed without exposure to an explosives odor.
(Even during a routine work day, the handler tests the dog with
numerous explosive odors to feed it until it eats its daily ration.)
This conditioning stimulus means that the dog can train and work for
longer periods, and can work with any handler who feeds him. The
latter is a distinct advantage over the widely used "bonded team" - a
concept used by other agencies - because a dog can still be used when
his normal handler is ill or unavailable” (2)  “Dogs train with their
handlers for 10 weeks. During this time, the dogs train with
explosives varying from 1 gram to amounts exceeding 1,000 pounds. In
one training scenario, 3 grams of an explosive is placed in sterile
container, which is perforated with small holes. The container serves
to focus the dog's attention on an object and to prevent accidental
ingestion. It also hides the color and shape that distinguishes some
compounds, thereby preventing the dog from using visual cues. The dog
is rewarded with food when he alerts properly.  Moving up the scale in
difficulty is the "Training Wheel," a device consisting of four
containers on a rotating wheel. One can holds the explosive while the
others contain either nothing or samples with distracting odors. The
dog, searching on- and off-leash, has to discern which container has
the explosive. By spinning the wheel, the dog can be repeatedly
tested, without the trainer having to rearrange the containers himself
to present a new challenge. Furthermore, the explosive compound can be
changed at any time, and more than one container on the wheel can hold
different explosives or distracting samples. A dog is considered
trained when he ignores a food distracter in favor of the explosive
odor.” (2)

Contact Information:  If you’d like to talk to anyone involved with
the program directly, here are some phone numbers:

National Canine Enforcement Program Headquarters 
(202) 927-3827 
Canine Enforcement Training Center
Canine Enforcement Branch Chief Gene Garza
Supervisory Canine Enforcement Officers Antonio Garcia or Timothy

If you need any more information, please don’t hesitate to post a
clarification request.  Thanks!



1.  “Enforcement”
2.  "dogs_atf”

Search strategy:
“front royal, Virginia” + dog
“front royal, Virginia” + bomb + dog
“Canine Enforcement Training Center" bomb
dizwarner-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Once again this service has given me everything I requested.  Thank you very much.

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