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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Training Program for Filter-Search Mine Detection Dogs

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

REST (Remote Explosives Scent Tracing) is an odor detection concept in which air from suspect locations is vacuumed though a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) netting filter. The filters are transferred to dogs trained to signal specific target odors such as drugs or explosives. Application for the detection of landmines involves vacuuming an area of land suspected to contain mines, and requires that the dogs achieve detection skills for very low concentrations of the target odor. Here, we describe the principles behind and results of a training program designed to produce REST dogs with detection skills similar to those obtained on filters from minefields. The entire training process for four dogs took under 6 months, and involved two trainers working for 1-5 days/week for about 5 h/day (dogs were trained most days, but both trainers were not always present). Principles underlying the training program were: (1) minimise dependency on handler, (2) encourage independent search, (3) build extended search by progressively reducing the frequency of occurrence of positive filters (using variable interval reinforcement), and (4) progressively generalise discrimination to lower concentrations of TNT. Reward-based “clicker” training was used exclusively. After 15 weeks, the dogs achieved 95% detection reliability. Properly documented training programs such as this one are essential if the industry is to further develop the REST concept for operational implementation on a broad scale.

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