Agency K-9 Facility Offers Community Training
In a flurry of furry precision, Central Intelligence Agency K-9s made the rounds at their explosives training course at the Meridian Center for the first time that morning. Labs, German shepherds and golden retrievers sniffed around the room, hoping to find one of the 19,000 explosive scents they were trained to identify. Every few paces, almost as if choreographed, the dogs sat at attention and stared eagerly at their handler to signal their discovery. And after a pat on the head, a brief word of praise and a handful of food, their noses were back in action.
“Many of these dogs graduated earlier this year as part of the Center’s first class,” an officer with the Security Protective Service’s K-9 unit explained.
The CIA opened the Meridian Center in December 2010 after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) significantly curtailed training for other federal, state, and local agencies. As the first Agency-owned-and-operated K-9 explosives training facility, the dogs and their trainers now have access to top-notch, customized instruction in their own backyard.
This opportunity isn’t exclusive to the Agency. The Center also offers course enrollment to partners within the Intelligence Community and state and local law enforcement, a policy that allows for closer collaboration and the development of standardized explosives training.
“K-9 explosives detection programs differ from agency to agency… it is our goal to create one standard course so we can all work together better in the field,” a Security Protective Service K-9 officer said.
Dogs and handlers from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Fairfax County Police Department have already participated in the CIA course, with another team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation scheduled to enroll this fall.
Training Agency K-9s
All dogs chosen for the Agency training course are hand selected by CIA trainers from “Puppies Behind Bars,” a program that pairs inmates with puppies to teach the dogs basic commands. While a number of breeds are chosen, Agency K-9s tend to be Labradors, known for their intelligence and—most importantly—their unwavering good temperament.
“Our dogs do a lot of outreach within the community, and the Labs tend to handle the attention better than other breeds. Plus, when you’re overseas, there’s something about having these dogs nearby that puts a smile on everyone’s face,” a Security Protective Service K-9 officer said.
After six weeks of “imprinting,” where they learn to identify thousands of explosive scents, the dogs are carefully matched with a CIA K-9 handler.
“The puppies come from Puppies Behind Bars with a journal detailing all of their likes and dislikes, so we try to make the best team possible when matching them with our officers,” the officer explained.
The dogs then undergo an additional 10 weeks of intense one-on-one training, learning to work with their CIA Security Protective Service partner to find explosives in things ranging from cement walls to plastic luggage. Upon passing the final test, the dog teams are deployed to sites throughout the country and overseas, working as the first line of defense against explosive threats to Agency personnel and buildings.
The K-9s and their unique capabilities are always on call—whenever and wherever they are needed—and have worked with dogs from organizations as varied as the U.S. Park Police, the local Virginia county fire Marshalls and the Smithsonian.
As the explosives threat continues to evolve, the dogs’ training never truly stops. “It’s hard work, but the dogs love their job and are excited to come in and practice every day,” the K-9 officer said.
Rounding the scent-laden obstacle course at the Meridian Center for the final time that morning, the loud barks accompanying each new discovery proved that the dogs couldn’t agree more.
Related Stories and Links: