Dogs can smell traces from explosives and other parts of the mine/UXO body. They are therefore commonly used within mine and UXO detection programmes. The principle is similar to how dogs are used to detect explosives and drugs at airports and in other security applications. Examples of dogs used for landmine clearance go back to the Second World War and in more recent times to the Vietnam War. Dogs were first employed for humanitarian demining in Afghanistan, which today features one of the largest and most successful mine dog detection programmes.
Dog training is difficult and time-consuming, and can last from three months and up to several years. Mine detection dogs may well be trained far from the country where it is later to be deployed but a period of acclimatization and adoption to the new climate, the soil and the mine/UXO types in the operating area is always required. This period can take from one to six months dependent on whether there is a need to train new dog handlers from the target area too.
Mine dog detection is as much about the handler as the dog. Mines are often missed because of handler errors - the handler fails to recognize the signals of the dog. In modern mine dog detection, the dogs are trained to be less handler dependent than was typically the case in the past. The dog knows how to do the job with minimum interaction from the handler. This minimizes the risk of the dog indicating falsely to please the handler as well as other communication errors.
The price of a high quality mine dog is high, typically around ten thousand US dollars. Other limiting factors are unfavourable climatic conditions (such as excessive heat and humidity, too much wind or wind coming from the wrong direction), thick vegetation, and dense minefields are also obstacles to successful mine dog detection. The latter will result in a complete contamination of a wider area and thereby confuse the dog. Daily working hours vary from a few hours to 6-7 hours per day. Dogs tend to work shorter periods in hot climates while they may carry on working for longer periods when it is colder. A mine dog can verify from a few hundred to a thousand square meters per day (figures vary sharply) dependent on local conditions and how they are trained. Motivation is a key factor for success. Motivation is to some degree related to the type of breed but more importantly to how the dog is trained and rewarded. Like humans dogs may have bad days where motivation is low.
Mine dog detection is far from being perfect science and the detection rate (efficiency) can vary significantly. IMAS requires two or more dogs to cover the same area before it can be declared fully cleared. Well managed dog programmes are, however, generally accepted by most humanitarian demining organisations for area verification (e.g. Quality Control after mine clearance activities) and minefield delineation (i.e. area reduction). In this role dogs can verify areas much faster than e.g. manual mine clearance. Mine dog detection is steadily expanding as more experienced is gained about how to train and use them in the most cost effective manner. More than 500 dogs are currently in use world-wide.
Despite the fact that dogs have already found a role in humanitarian mine clearance, research and development continues. IMAS standardizes how to test and accredit dogs for mine dog detection but these methods are costly and time consuming. FOI in Sweden is therefore looking at ways to create artificial scent that are exact replicas of that of landmines and UXO. The GICHD, Sandia National Laboritories and other institutions have all carried out research that has made mine dog detection more efficient and reliable over the years. There is therefore a growing interest in the use of mine dogs. The supply is unfortunately less than the demand.
A recent alternative to mine dogs are mine rats. APOPO in Tanzania has successfully trained rats to detect landmines and UXO. The first group of rats have been deployed in Mozambique. Rats may not replace mine dogs but they could become a real alternative to the use of dogs in some countries.
Dogs and rats are also used in remote detection roles. The Remote Explosive Scent Trace (REST) system is based on taking air samples from sectors of road or land (one sector is typically 100 running meters). These samples or filters are subsequently presented to specially trained dogs or rats that can detect traces from landmine and UXO. A filter that has been detected by one or several dogs or rats may contain mines and UXO and will be subjected to clearance. A filter that has not been detected by any of a group of dogs or rats can be considered free from mine and UXO. REST is therefore more a tool which will allow the elimination of mine free sectors. Since the mine density on roads is typically very small (often less than 1% of the road length is mined), REST has a major potential to enhance mine clearance. REST is in use in several countries but the system is not optimized and more research is required to ensure a world wide use of it.
Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
Non Governmental Organisations