Food-Loving Labs Help Keep US Open Safe

When golfers and fans flock to Pebble Beach, Calif. for the US Open (June 14-20), they may notice some friendly, furry faces on the course....


Nanny, one of the elite team of ATF K-9 explosive detectors

When golfers and fans flock to Pebble Beach, Calif. for the US Open (June 14-20), they may notice some friendly, furry faces on the course. About a dozen Labrador retrievers are going to be nosing and wagging around to help ensure safety at the nation’s largest golf event.

Half of the dogs are highly trained members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). They can sniff out bombs, guns, or any number of explosive devices — detecting a mind-boggling 19,000 combinations of explosives. The other half are from other agencies, and are equally dedicated to sniffing out explosives.

“They’re better than any machine out there,” Lauren Marakas, an ATF special agent canine handler and explosives specialist, told the Monterey Herald. “We smell spaghetti sauce, they smell everything that’s in the sauce.”

And who better to include in a spaghetti reference than Labrador retrievers? It just so happens that the ATF uses a food-reward training method, which is highly appealing to Labs’ robust sense of appetite.

“Labs are known for their appetites,” Marakas said. “Explosives equal food.”

Jake would like to apply for a food-centered ATF job. I'm not sure this is the best photo to include with this application, though.

(My very own Lab, Jake, can vouch for the appetite thing, and would like to know where to sign up for the job.)

Here’s a little more from the Herald about how and why the ATF uses Labs:

The Labradors, which never take a day off from training, receive a full day’s food rations during training exercises, Marakas said.

While dogs trained to find illegal drugs tend to get more excited when they catch a scent, an explosives detection dog is trained to respond to detection by sitting and waiting patiently for a kibble reward.

“We want a passive response,” Marakas said. “We don’t want an aggressive response because we are looking for something that can blow up.”

A Labrador’s generally friendly demeanor is another valued trait, since they travel quite a bit by air and do much of their work is in crowded areas.

“Labs are the best in the world for being in social situations,” said ATF special agent Doug Lambert, Ostermann’s handler. “The last thing we want is for one of our dogs to take a bite out of somebody’s hand or something at an event like this.”

My husband, who, among other things, is a sea captain, is driving someone’s yacht from San Francisco to Monterey for the event as I write this. If he’s lucky enough to get to the green to see any of the action (slow as golf action may be) during his stay, it’s good to know that the noses of food-loving Labs will help keep him safe.

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