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The Recruit(s): CIA K9s Level Up

Freya takes a break after a successful search looking for explosive odors in luggage and boxes.


The fall 2017 CIA “puppy class” is in high gear. The girls and new boy have learned all of their target odors and have been training with their new human partners for several weeks. They can now detect over 20,000 different explosive mixtures!

Dogs, clearly, have an exceptional sense of smell. They can pick out an explosive they’ve been imprinted with, even when that explosive is mixed with several other chemicals.

We’re often asked how it’s possible for a dog to learn only a few dozen scents, yet be able to detect so many different explosives mixtures.

Our Lead K9 Trainer, Dennis, likes to explain it using what he calls, “the Beef Stew Metaphor”:

Let’s say you walk into a house and smell beef stew cooking on the stove. You might be able to pick out a few ingredients, but generally you smell the delicious stew as a whole. When a dog sniffs a pot of beef stew, however, they smell the carrots and salt and beef and celery and onions and paprika and anything else in it. They can pick out each ingredient and differentiate between them all. Yet to us, it just smells like stew.

If a dog was taught to indicate on the scent of carrots, for example, the dog would then indicate on the beef stew because it could pick out the carrots from the rest of the ingredients that make up the stew.

Not only do dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but it’s amazing how quickly they can pick up new scents! Our newest recruit, Harry, is no exception.


Harry eager to work during a practice field search.


As we announced a few weeks ago, the class has a new pup! Harry has been busy learning all of his explosive odors, which he’s mastered, and now he’s almost caught up to the ladies, who are practicing advanced search patterns and simulated exercises with their handlers.


Nicole catches the scent of a target odor in the seam wall.

Heide searches rows of cement blocks for hidden explosive odors, aka hots.

Nicole searches wooden pallets for target odors housed inside tiny metal tins, as her handler guides her through a search pattern.


Nicole, Heide, Suni, Indigo, and Freya have also been busy doing simulated searches on objects they’d likely encounter in the real world, like luggage, suitcases, and boxes.


Freya is excited after she finds a hot inside the box during a simulated search.

Indigo glances at her handler as she examines a duffle bag, looking for hots.

Heide eagerly waits to search a duffle bag as a K9 trainer positions the items across the floor.

Suni finds a hot in the box and enthusiastically waits for her handler’s instructions.

Nicole examines bags and boxes, searching for hidden explosive odors during a simulated exercise.


Soon, the pups and their handlers will move on to searching bigger objects, like cars, trucks, and heavy machinery. Before they graduate, they’ll be able to successfully search not just large objects, but entire rooms and even warehouses for explosive odors.



The pups are eager to practice their search skills in a variety of different environments, as they continue to bond with their handlers and learn to work together as partners.

If you miss any of the articles in this series, visit “Follow CIA’s New Puppy Class!” main page, where we are chronicling the puppies’ progresses throughout their training.


Posted: Nov 16, 2017 04:56 PM
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2017 03:46 PM