With the help of Program Manager Guy Hartsough, our host John Verrico sniffs out the many ways S&T’s Detection Canine Program improves counter-IED (improvised explosive device) efforts. You’ll learn about the hard science behind the “art” of working with dogs and appreciate all that goes into turning a potential pet into a sophisticated tool for national security. You’ll find out what makes for a good detection canine and be able to better appreciate what it takes to work in law enforcement. From how training aids are designed and deployed, to why a centralized focal point for best practices is so crucial, this episode is a real treat.
Guest: Guy Hartsough, Program Manager, Detection Canine Program
Host: John Verrico, Chief of Media & Community Relations
[00:00:00] Verrico: Hi, I'm John Verrico and I work for the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, or S&T as we call it. Join me and meet the science and technology experts on the front lines, keeping America safe. This is Technologically Speaking.
Verrico: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Technologically Speaking. I'm your host for today, John Verrico, and I have a very special guest with me. I've got Mr. Guy Hartsough who's the program manager for the Detection Canine program here at S&T. Detection canines. Guy, this sounds like a really, cool program and I know it is. So, what exactly does this program do?
[00:00:46] Guy: So, we, develop and analyze canine training tools and, and techniques for the dogs. We improve their operational proficiency. We try to do that through a number of performers. We do operational tests and evaluations and, and try to inform the handlers of the latest and greatest in science and technology that will make them and their canines better at, potentially finding threat materials. And then we do studies of, uh, old faction and cognition on the dogs, so that we can understand how they detect, better. Because they're not designed by us. They're just the tool that we use as opposed to, uh, mechanical or an electronic system that's used to detect.
[00:01:24] Verrico: Interesting.
[00:01:24] Guy: The program started a few years ago, to provide, a central focal point. If you look at the world of detection canines. Because they preexist a lot of standard tools for detection of other types of things like in the world of, uh, chem, bio, and rad nuc, a lot of detection tools and equipment have come out, obviously from military use and then goes into civilian law enforcement. So, a lot of those, a lot of those tools when they're being developed, go through a lot of test and evaluation, and then there's a lot of standards that are developed to ensure that they operate properly. How often should you calibrate it? But the world of canine detection doesn't have that central focal point. And when you go from state to state and municipality to municipality, there's not one single set of cohesive laws and directives that tell you what constitutes a good handler. What constitutes a good odor detection, canine, be it drug or explosives.
[00:02:22] Verrico: Right.
[00:02:22] Guy: So, what we're trying to do in this program is work to ensure that there are standards that are developed and hopefully will be employed so that, you know what you're getting from one state to the next state from city to city. And that is in how the dogs would be used and what they're capable of and how they should be trained and to what level. So, for lack of better words that there are some folks that will walk around and call it an art form. And in a lot of cases in an art form, there's a lot of science behind it. So, we're trying to draw out, and find, separate fact from fiction, that will take this more into a better understood science.
[00:02:58] Verrico: What is the difference between a detection canine and a regular dog that, you know, somebody might have as a pet other than perhaps maybe the training? Is there some other attributes that we look for?
[00:03:11] Guy: There are certain. Certain dogs are really good. Uh, they, do a dual role, military work and dogs provide protection and they do odor detection. A lot of the canines that are employed by TSA, by the way, they're our number one customer. So they're the folks that we share the most information with and provide assistance to.
[00:03:29] Verrico: Right.
[00:03:30] Guy: But, uh, the dogs have to have a certain temperament. They can't be skittish. Dogs that hold their place, they don't get easily distracted. But they do have curiosity. Dogs that don't bark all the time, that are not afraid once, something happens, whether it's, something goes by them quickly or a loud bang. A lot of dogs get skittish, but generally explosive detection, canines, and other types of, order detection canines don't normally get distracted. They stay on focus. There are a number of breeds that fit that bill.
[00:03:57] Verrico: Fascinating.
[00:03:57] Guy: You just don't get the nose with the dog, you get the dog's behavior, we have studies that confirm it and expound on it. Dogs are like, you know, your standard worker. They're doing their job because they want to get paid.
[00:04:08] Verrico: Right.
[00:04:08] Guy: They want to, they wanna play. They wanna have toys and they want to eat. There's not a lot of ego with a dog compared to a person. When a dog is out there and it's working, if a dog goes into the same venue, time and time again, and there's nothing there for the dog to find dogs get bored. They realize this job's no good. I'm not gonna get paid. I'm not gonna get a toy. I'm not gonna get a snack. So, they learn over time, and it's been revealed that you could start putting materials that are of a concerned in those same venues, and the dogs generally will not notice it because they're not paying too much attention in their brain, however, that's deciphered by the, uh, scientist who did the study, the dogs just don't have an interest. It’s called canine vigilance, and there's been some time and money spent to figure out, okay, how do we counteract that?
[00:04:54] Verrico: Sounds like you really know dogs, Guy? And so, do you have a dog?
[00:04:59] Guy: No
[00:05:00] Verrico: No, you don't have.
[00:05:00] Guy: No, my, my wife has me. I'm the pet in the house and she's the only, she I'm the only child she takes care of. So, we don't have dogs.
[00:05:08] Verrico: I absolutely love that. So, so how did you get involved in this program?
[00:05:12] Guy: Yeah, that's a good question. It's a convoluted route. I've done. I was over in, uh, the Countering Weapons and Mass Destruction Office, which is a relatively new office. I already had a program management background. A lot of what I had done, in the prior organization, which was, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, was pretty much detection related. Uh, cause dogs are still a detector. It's a tool that law enforcement uses to find something that could cause harm to the public. So, there was the interfacing with law enforcement, being able to meet a customer's needs. So, then I was asked if I was interested in moving over, into the Science and Technology Directorate based on some of the folks’ experiences working with me in Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction. And so, I jumped at the opportunity. So, the last job I had was as an intelligence analyst, which really was kind of boring when you're sitting at home during COVID, you don't get too much work done when you're not inside a SCIF. So I, I jumped at the opportunity to move over and actually do something that, appears to bear a lot of fruit, and I like working with state and local law enforcement and federal law enforcement and helping them have a better tool at their disposal and making the public safer in general.
[00:06:20] Verrico: You know, Guy, you bring up a good point. You're talking about basically detection capabilities, and that's what you were doing before, only with technology. And now we're doing it with, kind of, live technology. So, what makes dogs so particularly well suited for this kind of thing?
[00:06:36] Guy: Alright. I'm not necessarily a biologist, but I believe that when you compare, for example, your capability to smell anything, whether it's pasta sauce on the stove, dogs have hundreds of thousands additional receptors in their cavity so that they actually can pick up on a lot more detail than a human being could. That's about the nickel tour of that. They have a much greater capability to breaking down and getting to a much, lower concentration of odor detection. So for somebody like you, or I might sit and, to smell the garlic, you know, you might have five cloves in a, two-gallon pot of sauce. For them it, it could be, like almost micrograms that they'd be able to detect as opposed to us having to smell so much more. So, their level of detail is so much greater than ours.
[00:07:19] Verrico: That's amazing. You know, it sounds like you're familiar with my grandmother's sauce actually, talking about five, five cloves, a garlic in.
[00:07:25] Guy: Same here. They're the reason that they're used is because they're, as of right now, there is no manmade detection technology that is capable of getting down to the levels that a dog can get to. If and when that time comes, then dogs will most likely go out to pasture and become regular pets. But in this case, there, there is no machine out there or anything that's currently designed that can hunt down and track a scent or identify, anywhere close to what a dog can do.
[00:07:55] Verrico: Guy, we know that these dogs have this amazing innate capability of being able to detect, and smell different things and be able to discern one thing from another. Once we know the kinds of things that we want them to alert us to, how do we train them or how do we get them to identify that particular item?
[00:08:15] Guy: When dogs go through their training, they're exposed to materials of concern. They go through it's almost like a memorization process where when they identify what's been exposed to them, they learn the proper behavior and how to respond. So, for example, if I expose a dog to black powder or a potassium chloride or whatever the material might be. The material is hidden. If the dog, it's called imprinting, the dog is expected to behave in a certain way. In many cases, the dog’s change of behavior, which is what the handler is, that's pretty much the communication that the dog and the handler have between each other. It is a relationship and the dog will generally for stationary objects, the dog will sit. When that dog sits, it's letting you know, Hey, I just found something that you waved under my nose a couple hundred times to get my attention and I've just found it. The proper protocols can be carried out so that, it can be whatever that dog sat down for, that object can be examined to ensure that there's no threatening material there.
[00:09:19] Verrico: So, we're talking about developing and testing, training aids. What does that program actually look like?
[00:09:25] Guy: The program to develop and test training aids, came about before I came aboard and it was to fill a gap that exists in materials that you can use to find what are commonly called homemade explosives that terrorists use. They're extremely sensitive and, they're commonly used. A lot of the explosives that law enforcement and the military use are not so sensitive that you can't use it for testing and move it around. Homemade explosives it's a whole other ball of wax. So, what this program did was in order to ensure that a dog can find a certain type of homemade explosive, you wanna make sure that whatever you develop, is as close to that material as possible in whatever the chemical signature is that the, that hits on the dog. And the organization that was tapped to do this study, basically, it's a very, they basically dilute the explosive with it's almost like a clay it's called diatomaceous earth that has really no odor to it whatsoever. And it's in powder form and you take the explosives in powder form, and you mix them together, carefully. And that way, what you have is a non-detonatable training aid. So that you can take it out in the field to the dog. It smells no different than, uh, standard homemade explosives, or, I mean, there's a number of different ways you can make, pasta sauce, but there are still basic components that you actually need for it if it's gonna be considered that. And in this case with homemade explosives, there are certain components that are, that generally have to be present to make it. And in this case, it's made in a standard way. And then it gets diluted down so that it can be put into a canister and it's, it doesn't require extreme methods to handle it. So, you can just, basically, if you want to, if you wanna try to move around in public to see if the dog can like weed you out in a crowd, it's pretty safe to handle you crack it open like a can of sardines and then you toss it in the garbage, when you're done.
[00:11:17] Verrico: So, you're not actually playing fetch with a real stick of dynamite, but you'll be, you'll have some sort of a training aid or material that, that still has traces of that material in it that the dog can be able to sense. Is that correct?
[00:11:30] Guy: In essence, yes. But again, it's the chemical signature. You can't have something that's that we think smells like it. It has to have the material, in it. and some of our efforts are also involved in trying to get standardized methods of analyzing these, so that in the industry folks that are gonna go buy products that are actually out on the market, when we do things like market surveys and see what's actually available, we're also pushing the effort to.
[00:11:55] Verrico: You're talking about training materials.
[00:12:02] Guy: Training materials. That those follow a certain, standard method of analysis so that folks know what they get when they're getting training aids. A lot of times law enforcement might just go out and buy the actual explosive materials. But in other areas, there's because of the sensitive nature of the materials, you're gonna have to go with, some people use the word pseudo or surrogate, and there's a lot of those and those, that type of terminology is not standardized in the training aid industry. So, somebody has a pseudo and it means it's like, in lieu of, or it might smell like it. But, and a lot of times those things are trade secret. So, we're not trying to divulge anything that these folks are doing to, that would run 'em outta business. But we do want folks to have the folks who are buying, because this is a public safety thing.
[00:12:42] Guy: We want law enforcement to have a good understanding of what it is when they buy a training aid and how that training aid was manufactured and what kind of quality went into it and testing, so that folks know that if you're getting a surrogate or an alternative to a peroxide-based explosives, that you get something that, the dog will hit on. And so if the dog was imprinted on a certain material, and then you put that out, that dog should be able to see that surrogate and believe that he's gonna get paid because that's pretty much what he was imprinted on.
[00:13:14] Verrico: Right. Okay, excellent. While we're on this subject of being able to detect certain types of materials, let me just ask if a dog is trained to say sniff out explosives or explosive-related materials, could that same dog be also used for something like, I don't know, opioids or drugs, or are they different types of dogs that are used for those different things?
[00:13:36] Guy: No, those two worlds are generally kept separate. And that's not to say that you couldn't train a dog to detect, say cocaine or, black powder. It's just generally the dogs that are used for explosives detection are exclusively explosives. Or in the military, they also provide security, but generally the dogs that are trained for narcotics are not the same dogs that are used for explosives.
[00:14:00] Verrico: So, can you explain for me, how you work with the regions, and with state and local law enforcement to help them to determine how to best keep their dogs, trained or its training standards and all that other, all the other parts of the program that you do?
[00:14:20] Guy: We have an effort called REDDI and that's the Regional Explosives Detection Dog Initiative, and that started up in 2017 down in Florida. We've hit 27 cities so far, and we've had over 200 individual law enforcement agencies and 400 plus canine handling teams, where we put them through, what's known as an odor recognition test. The material that you know, I'll just describe it in layman terms, you stick a feedbag in a dog's face with material that you know, that he's been trained to detect, and then you put that inside a container where the dog can't see it and they sniff and they find it. And that’s how they recognize the odor, but that's not how people plant explosives in the real world. People generally pack it into a pipe seal off the end and have some way to detonate it. So, what we do is we verify that they're actually capable of finding and they've been trained on, we ask them what have you been exposed to? We get all the data as to how they were trained through what particular organization. And then we run them through the order recognition test. And then we give them operational tests where material is packaged in a way that you might not, you might not find a lot. It's gonna take a lot more for that dog to find it. So, the best example is you got pasta cooking on a tabletop or a pasta sauce, and then you have it in a jar.
[00:15:36] Guy: A dog might be able to find it in the jar, but that signal is a lot weaker. Especially if you just cracked, open the jar and then put the lid back on it. So that, for us, we're not gonna find that, but a lot of times dogs are only trained on that giant open pot of sauce. And you want them to be able to also recognize, well, when I go to blow something up, it's not gonna be, it's not gonna be in an open container. It's gonna be, it's gonna be packed tight so I can get maximum effect. So, you want that dog to be able to detect that material when it's in a container for as little as little might be on there, whether it was just the person's hands touching it. So, we, do that it's called lowering the odor threshold. And then we do evaluations on 'em and we let these folks know, in this particular area, your dogs, weren't able to detect material that was packaged this tight. And then what we try to inform them on is here are methodologies that you can use so that you can lower the signal that the dog is getting the scent in a step-by-step fashion, over a short period of time, so that when you expose a dog to say, and I'll just throw out black powder, you expose the dog to black powder and the dog can find it. And now you put black powder in a pipe and closed off the ends. And the dog recognizes that signature is one and the same. The dog doesn't tell it, tell us that directly, but through the training and lowering the signal becomes the same where the dog sits down. His behavior will indicate he or she is capable of finding that material. I hope that answered the question.
[00:17:05] Verrico: Oh, that's excellent. So, as well as the REDDI program, which has been extremely successful working with state and locals to help them, with their dogs training and all that good stuff. There's another program that you have as well called the person born explosive detection canine initiative. And I know traditionally dogs, when we think of detection dogs, we see them sniffing suitcases and the trunks of cars or suspected bombs and that kind of thing. What makes the person born explosive detection program that much different?
[00:17:36] Guy: The threat objects are in motion. You want to have the canine, be able to recognize that the threat material is not gonna be stationary. So, they have to be able to follow the wake of whatever's coming off. And just picture a person smoking a cigarette and walking. You want the dog to be able to follow that trail to the source, as opposed to constantly looking for where it is sitting down and then realizing, it's not here anymore, and then it's gotta get up and move. it's getting the dog trained from, identifying stationary objects to objects in motion.
[00:18:07] Verrico: Interesting. And I would imagine that you need a certain type of dog with a certain kind of demeanor, to be able to be that close in, working with people.
[00:18:15] Guy: Yes, generally, uh, dogs that as our biological SME says, dogs that are bity are not the kind of dogs that generally will work well in, in what TSA has as the passenger screening dog or what you would want for person born explosives. You want dogs that are generally friendly, that don't bite so that they, when they get close to people, you can just picture having a dog out in public that generally likes to snap and it, and its job is to try to find explosives on folks. There's probably gonna be a lot of lawsuits. That would make the job tough.
[00:18:49] Verrico: And I would imagine that would most definitely. I've always noticed that those dogs always seem so, so incredibly calm, around crowds of people. So, let me ask you this, uh, what is S&T's role in this particular program?
[00:19:03] Guy: In this particular program, what we've, done is funded certain performers to come up with the curriculum by talking to experts in the field, to come up with a simple curriculum almost like a train-the-trainer type program. So that, uh, what we have that's due out very soon will be, an HTML-based, training tool that somebody who has years of experience as a, as an explosive detection dog trainer can watch. Look at the general principles that are put forth in the HTML website and then go off and be able to train dogs that are already explosive detection canines, EDC. That's generally the term used for the traditional dogs that find a stationary object and they sit. And, uh, they can train and convert these dogs so that they can also be used, additionally to find objects that are in motion.
[00:19:53] Verrico: That’s incredible.
[00:19:53] Guy: It's getting the curriculum because it's not an intuitively obvious way to figure out what's going on. You can't just teach a dog, like go, you know, follow something in motion. There are the principles of which way the wind is blowing and how the dog is gonna use its innate hunt. It's like a dog hunting, uh, in motion, looking for prey that it's going after. And you utilize that, innate skillset that the dog has to track, basically track something in motion and that's what makes it interesting.
[00:20:20] Verrico: Really fascinating. And you know, you brought it up earlier. There really is a true science underlying all of this stuff. And that's why you're here with the Science and Technology Directorate, right. It’s understanding this science and helping the people who are on the front line of the homeland security mission. Being able to apply this science in a way that we help to protect the nation. This is really fascinating stuff. Earlier this year you were awarded a contract, and I know you worked with a lot of different performers, on various parts of this program. But most recently you awarded a $24 million contract to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Tell me about that contract and what you're doing.
[00:21:02] Guy: Auburn has been involved, on a much smaller scale in the past with this program before I came on board, doing, a number of studies, and most recently were involved with the Domestic Breeding Consortium. But, uh, Auburn has, as a college of veterinary medicine, there are researchers who have done a lot of work, in the detection canine field, that are, uh, recognized around the world. They put together a package that covers a broad range of studies that we believe will be beneficial to the detection canine community, and they submitted it through what S&T has, which is the Long Range Broad Agency Announcement for those who are listening, who might not be aware of that. If you have a really great idea and you submit it, and it looks like the science that you're proposing to do for a certain amount of money looks good, then that goes through a review by a panel of, uh, subject matter experts in a number of different fields. And when that's found acceptable, it ends up going to contracts. So, what Auburn did was they do a lot of work in the canine science field, and they have a large number of published experts. And we plan to use that to better the homeland security enterprise.
[00:22:11] Verrico: So Guy, I know you're relatively new to applying your program management skills to the canine program and working with dogs. What advice would you have to someone interested in a career with, uh, canine science?
[00:22:24] Guy: Well, if you want a job in program management, hopefully get involved with the program that’s extremely interesting. If the subject matter is boring to you, you're probably not gonna enjoy it. If you wanna work in the world of canine handling, I think that's an absolutely outstanding field and odor detection, you know, when most people think of odor detection canines, they think of either, blood hounds that go find, unfortunately bodies, dogs that are used for, rescue to find people. And then you have explosives and narcotics. There's also dogs that do work, looking for rare commodities or CBP has folks overseas that they have dogs that look for trading in illegal materials, like, teak woods and other stuff. I mean, these dogs are pretty much whatever you set to train them on. They're pretty good at it, they're pretty good at it.
[00:23:11] Verrico: I remember the ivory detecting dogs that were out there for a while.
[00:23:14] Guy: Right. And they use it. There's a lot of, these dogs are, used to look for, right illegal trading of exotic wildlife and other things. The field is interesting and you have to be somebody who loves animals because, you know, you don't want a person handling a dog, that's, kick the dog if it doesn't work. Right. I've banged down a couple gauges when things don't work on my car when it sputters, but you can't do that to a dog. So, you gotta be a special kind of person to wanna be a canine handler. There's a special bond between me and my dog and that, is true and exists. But at the other hand, you have to be open minded to the science that tells you how to do your job better. And I think it's an excellent field to get involved with. I, most of the handlers that I've had discussions with and met are wonderful people who are dedicated to service. A lot of 'em, were in the armed forces, the Marine Corps of the Air Force, Navy Army. And then they've, and a lot of them are veterans of the past two conflicts overseas and they continue that work stateside, protecting the public. So, these are the folks that have been involved, the men and women that have done all this work, have really been doing a great job, they're wonderful people. If you're looking for something that, that actually at the end of the day, you can feel better and say, it's rewarding, I would think that this is one of those jobs.
[00:24:27] Verrico: When you talk about program management as a skill basically what you said was, really doesn't matter what career field you go into your skillset, as long as you're finding something interesting to apply it to.
[00:24:40] Guy: Yes. If you're fortunate enough, like I was. I was asked if I had a preference and I was just happy to be involved because S&T is basically, the CBRN arm for DHS, for the most part, there were other folks that, that are part of that team. So, I would've been happy with anything. Detection canine was not what I thought when they said they needed a program manager, but I, I ended up getting it and, uh, I'm happy that I'm here and hopefully I'll retire in this job if I make as few mistakes as possible, I will hopefully be happily employed for the rest of my time in the federal government.
[00:25:13] Verrico: Well, you know, I'll say this kind of belatedly. Uh, I would say welcome to the coolest part of the Department of Homeland Security. I mean, on a day-to-day basis, what we do here really makes a difference for the people that are out there are on the frontline, trying to conduct the mission, day to day. And so I think that's what makes what we do here so rewarding and I'm so glad that you're finding it rewarding being part of S&T and for leading the efforts with our detection canine program. Guy, I wanna wrap this up real quick by just asking if there is just one thing that you want people to know and appreciate about the canine detection program, what would that?
[00:25:53] Guy: I would say it'd be the same thing that I would say about S&T in general. There are a lot of smart people who are very dedicated, to, to making sure that the public is safe. And I don't say that, like it's a catch phrase or a, buzzwords or anything I'm really impressed with, there are a large amount of very smart people. They don’t flaunt their pedigree, but they're really smart people. They make my job easy. But the important thing is that they truly are dedicated to making a difference and making sure that the public is safe. And that's something that I, I'm proud of, but, uh, I'm really happy with the, the people that I meet. It's really wonderful and it's not just detection canine, but it's, S&T at large.
[00:26:32] Verrico: Great. Thank you so much. And we've been speaking with guy Hartsough, who's the program manager for the detection canine program here with S&T. Guy, thank you again for joining us today. Really appreciate your time. And I would say go and give some ear scratches to your dogs out there when you're working, but we're not supposed to do that because these are working dogs. I appreciate it. And I promise I will not call them puppies in the future.
[00:26:56] Guy: Not a problem.
[00:26:57] Verrico: Let's wrap it up for today.
[00:26:59] Guy: [00:27:00] And I just wanna say, hi mom, I don't know if she'll ever listen to this, but if she does, please, don't edit this out.
[00:27:05] Verrico: We will send her the link.
[00:27:06] Guy: Thanks. Have a great day.
[00:27:08] Verrico: This has been Technologically Speaking, the official podcast of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. To learn more about S&T and find additional information about what you heard in this episode, visit us online at scitech.dhs.gov and follow us on social media at DHS SciTech. Thanks for listening.