Back to Basics, Facility Security

Back to Basics: Using Canines for Security and Safety

Back to Basics is an article series highlighting important, but possibly overlooked, information that security professionals should know.

You’ve seen them helping security and law enforcement at various venues like airports, concert halls, shopping centers, and schools, but do you know the reasons why various organizations and businesses use security canines? Just like how security professionals and law enforcement go through extensive training based on their specific job responsibilities, these canines also must be taught how to best do their jobs.

4 Types of Security Canines

The National Police Dog Foundation reports that security canines can be either single-purpose or dual-purpose dogs, and organizations and companies can use canines for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few.

1. Narcotics, Explosives, and Weapons Detection

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports it uses canines to detect explosive materials in aviation, multimodal, maritime, mass transit, and cargo environments, and these canines might work with transportation security inspectors or with local or state law enforcement officers. There are more than 1,000 TSA canine teams that assist in screening passengers, cargo, and other security operations. Breeds in the program include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, German Short-Haired Pointers, Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas, Belgian Malinois, and Golden Retrievers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) also has 62 accelerant detection canine teams with state and local partners, as well as 113 explosives detection canine teams nationwide and works with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners; fire investigation teams; and the military. Narcotics detection canines use their heightened senses to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other substances such as alcohol.

In addition to transportation facilities, places that utilize canines for these purposes include:

  • Schools and universities
  • Employers for the purposes of monitoring their employees
  • Retail businesses, including shopping malls
  • Entertainment venues

2. Crowd Control

Canines are a great tool in helping to calm down large crowds, such as during demonstrations, especially if individuals become combative with law enforcement or security. However, security or law enforcement should speak with their leadership about how to utilize canines during tense situations, as the International Association of Chiefs of Police cautions against using them for containment or dispersal purposes. Also, consider using canines during festivals to provide visual assurance that unwanted behavior will not be tolerated.

3. Perimeter Security

Canines can help protect large areas, like commercial complexes, warehouses, workshops, and power plants, providing increased security for risky and vacant properties. These canines can be by themselves or with a handler, but either way, this is usually a cheaper and safer alternative than having two security officers.

Ways canines can be used to secure perimeters:

  • Mobile drive-by. This can be either random or implemented at times of high risk and is especially helpful in remote areas in terms of providing a quick response. 
  • Alarm. Canines will loudly bark when strangers approach, which usually intimidates unwanted visitors.
  • Sentry. The canines can be trained to attack anyone who trespasses.
  • Attack. The canines will bite and even kill if commanded by their handlers. This is typically used for police and military purposes.

4. Apprehension

Security canines are taught how to assist their partners in catching suspects and can be threatening enough for suspects to surrender or can bite dangerous and uncooperative suspects and hold them hostage. However, there is debate in the police community about whether the canine or holder should be making use-of-force decisions, according to The Police Executive Research Forum.

Apprehension dogs are herding dogs, according to the American Kennel Club, and include:

  • Belgian Malinois
  • German Shepherds
  • Dutch Shepherds

2 Types of Safety Canines

Canines can also be used for safety purposes.

1. Search-and-Rescue Operations

After natural disasters, security canine teams can help find survivors and the deceased. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are 284 canine search teams specializing in searching for survivors and 90 teams for finding human remains. Canines in this program include Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Malinois, and Border Collies. These teams must be recertified every 3 years, and these canines are great for search-and-rescue operations because their heightened sense of smell can detect a live human scent, even if the person is buried underneath rubble.

Canines and handlers are specifically trained in the following:

  • Strategies
  • Mapping
  • Search and victim markings
  • Briefing and debriefing skills

2. Disease

Some schools have recently been utilizing canines to detect COVID-19. They undergo training like that of narcotic dogs so they can learn and remember the unique odor of COVID from a contaminated face mask caused by metabolic changes. In one study, they identified COVID 82% to 94% of the time, but more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of detection in crowded spaces. Some medical experts are expecting additional COVID surges this fall or winter, so having a COVID-sniffing canine might come in handy. But, canines aren’t limited only to sniffing out COVID; security canines could be able to detect lung, breast, ovarian, bladder, and prostate cancers, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Security canines provide a variety of functions that increase safety and help security professionals and law enforcement protect the public from dangerous people and situations. Security managers should therefore work with leadership to determine how security canines can be the most beneficial for their properties.

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