Put your paws up! TSA introduces canine unit for passenger screening

Put your paws up! TSA introduces canine unit for passenger screening

The TSA has come up with another way to make things faster at airport security lines. It involves a new cadre of highly trained security agents who just happen to be dogs.

The program has been introduced at 24 airports around the country. With the aim of reducing wait times at security checkpoints, canines and their handlers rove the line of waiting passengers, sniffing for what’s known as “explosive odor.” Those passengers who pass this inspection are invited to proceed through an expedited security line—the one used by Pre✓ passengers—where it’s not required to take off your shoes or belt or remove your laptop from its case.

The TSA has employed canine units to detect explosive substances since 1973 in cargo and checked baggage at airports and other mass transit environments. The TSA calls the dogs “a mobile form of explosive detection” and they are considered to be “extremely accurate.”

TSA dogs and handlers are trained together at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They’re taught to sniff out the odor of explosive substances through a training model called “operant conditioning,” which is founded on the concept of positive reinforcement. Dogs are rewarded with a treat or a toy—plus a pat and verbal praise—when they successfully detect the odor, which they communicate to their handler by simply sitting down.

This addition to the dogs’ duties—screening passengers themselves at security checkpoints—is another component of the TSA’s new approach to security and a move away from the “one size fits all” method of the past.