Train Dogs to "Sniff Out" Landmines & Save Lives

by The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI)
Jan 7, 2012

Mine Detection Dogs Training Hard to Save Lives

MDD Cindy
MDD Cindy

Update: Successful Launch of First MDD Program in Angola!

MLI has launched the first indigenous Mine Detection Dog program in Angola!  Five lifesaving dogs arrived in Angola on November 10th and are now in the midst of their in-country training.  Millions of landmines lie hidden in the ground in Angola, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent people each year, many of them children, and leaving more than 80,000 mine survivors struggling to live in Angola today.  Adding Mine Detection Dogs to the mine clearance efforts in Angola is going to make an enormous difference and will greatly accelerate the rate of land that is cleared.
MDD Arizona
MDD Arizona demonstrating how dogs can
quickly and effectively "sniff out" landmines
30 times faster than human deminers.

Over the past year, with support from the Government of Angola, the Mine Detection Dog Center, the US Department of Defense and private, caring donors, MLI began a multi-phased program to provide Angola with 6 lifesaving dogs. The first dogs arrived on October 2, 2011 to begin the "Proof of Principle" phase of the project and to demonstrate that MDDs can be successfully integrated into Angola's demining program.   Since the arrival of the rest of the "six pack" in November, the dogs have acclimated and are bonding well with their new handlers, who not only train with them, but are also responsible for all of the grooming, feeding, and exercising needs of their new canine companion.  Not surprisingly, a strong bond is developing between the dogs and their handlers as they train on a daily basis.

MLI expects the dogs and Angolan handlers to complete their training over the next few months and to begin "sniffing out" landmines in the Summer of 2012!


Interested in Learning More?  Here Are Some Commonly Asked Q&A about Mine Detection Dogs! 

 Q.    Why are dogs necessary for demining?

 A.    Currently, the most commonly used demining tools in the field include metal detectors and pointed probes to carefully check every potential indication of a buried landmine. Often, thousands of pieces of unrelated metal must be removed to find a single mine and it is increasingly common for landmines to be made out of plastic rather than metal, rendering metal detectors useless. It is, therefore, a slow, difficult, and expensive process to clear relatively small amounts of land.

In the mean time, people continue to be injured and killed, while critically needed farmland, water, and other social and economic resources remain unavailable to communities needing them the most.  Remarkably, dogs have proven to be one of the most effective and efficient "tools" in mine clearance efforts, clearing land 30 times faster than manual deminers and greatly accelerating the pace in which land can be returned to the people.


 Q.     How are dogs used in humanitarian demining?

 A.    All landmines and other explosives emit an "off gas" that can be detected by dogs, even when the explosive is buried in the ground.  Although there are technical efforts underway to replicate the capabilities of the dog’s nose, the canine remains 100 times more effective than the best mechanical technology.

The dog is integrated into mine clearance efforts by teaming with a human partner to search designated areas for explosives.  The team begins in a known safe area and then carefully advances into the suspected region. Upon sniffing explosives, the dog is taught to alert its handler to the location of the explosive by sitting down as soon as the scent of the mine is detected. Safety for the dog and handler is paramount. The handler then places markers triangulating the spot where the dog alerted before calling the dog back to a safe area.  The dog is immediately rewarded and given a favorite toy to play with, thus reinforcing its desire to continue working.  The landmine is then destroyed by a team of trained deminers.


Q.    What are the characteristics of a good demining dog?

A.    Dogs are motivated to do this kind of work because they develop a strong bond with their handler and because of the positive reenforcement they receive each time they find a mine. To the dog, this is a form of play between two partners.  The dog must relate well with its handler, who should be patient, understanding, precise, alert, self-motivated and, of course, like dogs.

      Choosing the right handler is every bit as important as choosing the right dog, and it is imperative for the two to have a positive relationship.  The handler is responsible for encouraging, praising and rewarding the dog because when the work ceases to be fun, the dog will stop working effectively.  The dog should possess excellent overall physical and mental characteristics, while also having a strong drive to hunt, and a curious, courageous, and playful personality.


Q.  Are dogs at risk?

A.   When dealing with explosives and weapons designed to maim and kill, there is danger to both man and dog, but statistics show that if trained properly, risks can be minimized.  The Marshall Legacy Institute partners with the leading dog training centers in the world and is proud of the fact that NONE of our dogs have been injured or killed by a landmine.  

There are several important reasons why this is the case:

  • The handler’s life is also at significant risk and safety is essential for the team.
  • Disciplined training stresses safety above all else.  Neither dogs nor their handlers are allowed in actual minefield conditions until training is complete and international standards have been met.
  • The dog, its handler, and environmental conditions are closely monitored.  Weather, fatigue, attitude, and many other factors can affect the ability of the dog team to work effectively.  Therefore, if something seems off, work is delayed until the situation has been addressed.
  • The company/country has a considerable investment in a strong dog team, which is guarded, valued and encouraged to work safely.

      The Humane Society of the United States is also a major supporter of MLI and mine detection dogs.  They are a partner in the K9 Demining Corps Campaign and former HSUS President Paul Irwin sits on MLI’s Board of Directors.


Q.    How are dogs treated when not at work?

A.  The dogs are treated very well.  Their health and well being is a critical issue for the company/country employing them, as it directly affects their work performance.                                                                                              

Kennels are clean and roomy.  Dogs receive nutritious food, exercise, refresher training, good veterinary support and tender loving care.  All of this is required for program success.

When dogs are transported, they normally ride with their handlers.  When travelling over long distances, they generally travel by commercial air, as would a family pet.


Q.     How are demining dogs treated in countries where animals/dogs are not traditionally treated well?

A.     The considerable monetary investment and the amount of time it takes to train dogs in successful demining programs demand that they be well treated.  In fact, the strong bond developed been the dog and handler, along with the impressive work of the effective dog team, often tends to change attitudes of the local populace in favor of dogs and other animals. 

Most programs are based on the development of an indigenous, sustainable program in the host nation. This means that a local handler sees his canine companion in a different light than might previously have been the case.  The local population then sees the team as a positive force bringing safety and stability back to the community. 


Q.  What does a dog program cost?

A.    To purchase, train, transport and integrate a mine dog into demining operations costs approximately $20,000.

MLI conducted an extensive analysis to determine the most cost-effective methods of making this program work and considered the following factors as critical elements:

  • Clearly, there must be an appropriate expenditure for dog procurement, development, training, food, fitness, kennels, veterinary care, etc. to build a successful program. A safe and effective program may cost more, but is essential to the long term effectiveness and sustainability of the program.
  • Programs are successful only if the life of the dog and handler is valued. How a given company or country approaches this dog/human partnership is critical.
  • An important by-product of this program is the training and employment opportunities for indigenous handlers.  Relative to their countrymen they are generally well paid and these programs have the potential to have a significant impact on communities in terms of creating employment and economic growth. There must be a socioeconomic motivation to all successful demining programs.

Q.    What happens when a dog completes its useful demining service?

A.    MLI believes that successful programs ensure that proper care is available to retired dogs and that they should be placed in good homes in appropriate recognition of their service.  When MLI chooses a company or country for one of our dog programs, this is a critical and contracted element.  The countries contractually agree not to euthanise the animals; when their working lives are over the dogs are either adopted locally or return to the U.S. to be adopted.

MDD Arizona
MDD Arizona
MDD Zuja
MDD Zuja

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Organization Information

The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI)

Location: Arlington, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI)
Project Leader:
Tycie Horsley
Arlington, VA United States

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