New Auburn University canine detection technology provides latest in preventing terrorism

DSC_8928AUBURN – Auburn University researchers in the Animal Health and Performance Program and its Canine Detection Research Institute have taken standard explosives detection to another level through the development of their Vapor Wake Detection training program.

The Vapor Wake Detection canine team is a standard explosives detection team with an additional detection application to sense carried or body-worn explosives. The Vapor Wake Detection canine samples the plume of air coming off a person and what they are carrying as the person passes through a choke point or within a crowd. They can also detect an explosive’s vapor wake after a person has carried an explosive through an area, and can follow the vapor wake to the explosive source.

“One of the key benefits of the Vapor Wake Detection dog is that they are noninvasive,” said John Pearce, associate director of the Canine Detection Research Institute. “In an environment like a crowded venue, the dog can detect the odor of explosives on a moving person and trace the explosive to the source.”

The canine is specifically bred and prepared for this type of work. Sporting breeds are primarily used because of their close proximity to people during the vapor wake activity; these dogs customarily create less anxiety and fewer disruptions in a crowd.

The Vapor Wake canine is planned before breeding and its entire puppy life is engineered to succeed at this form of detection. The puppy enters the program at birth, and is exposed to specific environments and conditions over its first year of life. The canine receives six weeks of basic explosives training and six weeks of basic Vapor Wake training at the Canine Detection Training Center before being assigned a handler. Each canine and handler team then receives 10 weeks in the basic explosives handler course, and upon graduation, advances to an additional two weeks of Vapor Wake team training at the center. Finally, the team returns to its operational environment accompanied by a center instructor and completes two weeks of operational Vapor wake training in that environment.

The researchers in Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine believe that Vapor Wake Detection technology is the most effective and economical approach available for combating threats to safety and homeland security posed by individuals carrying explosives or munitions. According to Pearce, the canines have been exceptionally successful in this form of detection in areas with a large congestion of pedestrian traffic without impeding traffic flow.

While explosives detection and checkpoint screening equipment is stationary, detection dogs can work all types of venues, and after explosives are identified, can continue to work the checkpoint or track the identified source. This mobility is a major advantage of the canine detection team.

Additionally, the canine detection team offers unpredictability. “Detection and screening equipment can be studied, calibrated and eventually compromised,” Pearce said. “Each detection canine is different; terrorists cannot predetermine their ability or responses.”

The Canine Detection Research Institute is one of the few places where dogs are trained not only to find planted or static placement of explosives, but also to detect a vapor wake left by a person carrying explosives through an area. Currently, several large police agencies with robust missions within the U.S. have purchased and are using Auburn University Vapor Wake Detection dogs.

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(Written by Carol Nelson.)

Contact: Tara Lanier (334) 844-3698 (, or
Mike Clardy (334) 844-9999 (