Inmates at the Bay Correctional Facility, above, spend months training dogs that go on to become bomb detectors. The dogs learn how to respond to basic commands and begin scent training in the Panama City, Fla., facility. The program aids both the dogs and the inmates who work with them.
Barney knew he would be on a short leash after leaving the Bay Correctional Facility in Panama City, Fla.
He would spend the next several months in Alabama in physical training, running 10 miles a day and learning to detect subtle, yet deadly, explosive threats.
Then he would head north, to help protect the U.S. Capitol.
Barney is a springer spaniel.
It’s a job for the dogs: keeping Capitol Hill safe from the threat of explosives.
But not for just any dogs. The journey for the Capitol Police’s canine bomb detectors starts in Anniston, Ala., at Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Center, where pups are trained to do the dangerous and vigorous job.
Sporting breeds, such as retrievers, are the main choice for bomb detectors. The reason is simple. Because bomb detection dogs must work in close proximity to large groups of people, sporting breeds are valued because they are generally less intimidating than other police dogs, such as German shepherds, rottweilers or Doberman pinschers.
Before the dogs get to Auburn’s intensive physical training, they work with inmates at Florida’s Bay Correctional Facility, where select prisoners work with them on basic housebreaking and command training.
The relationships the dogs develop with the inmates is a key part of their training, as they learn to bond with people before learning to protect them. The inmates say they benefit from the program as much as the dogs.
It’s akin to a full-time job for the men, who must care for, exercise and feed the dogs, giving them a sense of responsibility for living creatures, “as if they were our kids,” as many inmates noted.
William Snelgrove said one of the best parts of the program was “that I’m giving back to the community,” adding, “I’ve seen the hardest criminal show a softer side taking care of these dogs. It changes them.”
Douglas Whitney said, “It’s taught me to respect life. I’m more patient and caring now than when I came here.”
In addition to basic discipline and socialization, the dogs also begin basic scent training at the prison, with exercises such as finding scent rags hidden in desks.
On the Plains
Once the dogs leave Panama City, they head for a ramped-up training program at Auburn.
Auburn’s Canine Detection Training Center is a unique place, as it works in tandem with Auburn University’s Canine Detection Research Institute to breed and prepare the dogs for a life locating explosives.