“The best way I can explain how a dog breaks up a scent is by using the “Spaghetti” analogy. Dogs smell components, where as the handler smells items as a completed whole. Example: Someone is making Spaghetti, the K9 comes in and smells all the ingredients that are involved. The handler may be able to pick out a few potent ingredients, but still smells it as a completed whole.” Says Ron Barton, Phantom K9s Master Trainer/Instructor.
Barton has trained hundreds of dogs during his career as a Military Working Dog Trainer at Lackland air force base and ensured the safety of some of our Nation’s highest ranking officials with the help of his K9 partners. “About 35 % of the dog’s brain is assigned to smell related operations, whereas a human’s brain is only assigned to 5% of smelling operations. The Dog’s nose actually extends from the nostrils to the back of its throat, housing about 300 million olfactory cells, about 50 more times as many as a human’s. Dogs can afford to assign certain areas of their smell memory cells for specific odors.” Barton explains, a human might be able to smell a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee, but a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in 1,320,000 gallons (size of 2 Olympic swimming pools) of coffee. “This is why we can “Imprint” the odors we want the dogs to find.
This is initially done by consistent training and reward, but it also must be maintained by quality proficiency training. As the dog advances in his/her recognition of the odor, so does their training; higher, deeper hides, more distracting odors, sounds and/or visual distractions.” States Barton, who in his 15 year career as a Military working dog trainer has turned out several of the Nation’s finest narcotic and bomb sniffing dogs.
“The mechanics of a dog’s nose is astounding in its self.” Barton explains when air enters a dog’s nose it splits into two separate paths – one for breathing and one for smelling. “When a dog exhales, the air going out exits through a series of slits on the sides of the dog’s nose. This means the outgoing air doesn’t interfere with the dog’s ability to analyze incoming odors; in fact, the outgoing air is even thought to help new odors enter. Even better, it allows dog’s to smell continuously over many breathing cycles.” During his career Barton has had the chance to work and study with many world renowned animal behaviorists and psychologists.
“Remember how cool it was when you were a kid, if someone could wiggle their nose without touching it?” Barton explains that in a dog’s case they are able to wiggle either nostril individually this also helps the dog locate and pinpoint the location of the odor.
But when it comes to scouting out a K9 partner there is one breed that Barton prefers for a certain standard of excellence.
Dogs don’t necessarily take first place in the animal kingdom. Elephants are a walking dictionary of odors. Rats and mice smell at least as well as dogs, and Jackals are just uncanny. But dogs beat them all in the “attitude” department.
No other animal is so well prepared to do what we want them to do. They want to please us! The
best dogs for finding bombs in my opinion are German Shepherds (my personal preference), Belgian Malinois, and Labrador Retrievers. Not so much for any olfactory prowess as for their tireless work ethic. GS’s and BM’s are more “play reward”, and some will work to exhaustion for their reward. LR’s are more “food reward”, perpetually hungry. GS’s and BM’s will take constructive criticism. LR’s won’t – the stress of not measuring up takes the starch right out of them. What about Bloodhounds you might ask! True a Bloodhound will follow a trail as if being pulled by a string. But they are way down the scale in the intelligence department. Golden Retrievers can out smell everybody, but it’s not so easy getting them to buy into the system. They’re so smart that if they don’t want to do something, they just don’t. Some breeders are looking into “Glabs”, a mix of GR’s and LR’s, to get the best of both breeds.
Barton has handled and trained several different types of breeds, he has also experienced real world situations with his K9 Partners. We were fortunate enough to have him share a few. “Before it was shut down several years ago, a defense department project called Dogs Nose was developed based on fluorescent polymers that supposedly was as effective as a dog’s nose. This technology was commercialized in a product called Fido X3, now owned by FLIR systems. Many of these units were sold for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. While in Iraq, the ones I witnessed in use were better off put on the range as targets.The dogs were far superior to the machines.” Barton smiles upon remembering his German Shepherd K9 partner. “In 2004 my Narcotics detection dog, Bond responded on the far corner of an old wooden desk in the deputies office when I started bringing him in. When I mentioned my four legged partner’s obsession with the piece of office furniture, I was promptly told there was nothing in there. Bond had never given me a false indication before and I was not about to let him down by just walking away. When the drawer was pulled out, there all the way at the back was a Marijuana pipe with black residue from an old case.Another incident was when My brother was working a bomb dog, Dowey in Iraq. One day during training he was told to clear an area under an overpass. There was lots of rubble and trash. As he was clearing the area with his K9 he was suddenly pulled over to an indent in the ground and his K9 sat. The trainer said “No! This is a blank search area.”(nothing was placed for the K9s to find). My brother stood firm that in fact there was an article there because his partner said there is. So the trainer came over and did a visual search and found a block of C4 that had been formed to look like just another piece of ruble. The nose Knows! Trust in your Dog!Another case I never forgot was when a Law Enforcement K9 team arrived at a two story house where it was reported their 3yr old daughter had went missing. When the K9 team had arrived several officers had already spent hours looking for the girl and found nothing. The officer asked for something the girl had worn that had not yet been washed. His K9 smelled the article of clothing, was given his command to find this person and within 15 minutes of their arrival to the house, the K9 found the little girl. She had fallen asleep under a pile of clothes inside a closet on the second floor of the house.Dogs have the abilities to be our best asset, as they have proven over the years. We just have to be able to put forth the patience and compassion to teach them what we need……….”Ron Barton continues today to train dogs for Law Enforcement, Military and Government operations. He has even donated some of his time and skills to helping save and rehabilitate German Shepherds with severe aggression issues and place them in the proper working homes and programs.Barton’s current K9 partner in training is a 10 month old red and black German Shepherd named Dooley. Dooley was handpicked from Longworth Shepherds in Butler, Missouri. The young Shepherd’s parents were both German imports and out of Law Enforcement working stock.