Issue 7.1, April 2003
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The Evolution of Mine Detection Dog Training

Global Training Academy has been building mine detection dog (MDD) capacities for years, even while they worked under skeptic voices and much criticism. Now the academy serves as the main MDD sub-contractor for the Department of State (DOS), and has experienced many successes with their program.

by Dan Hayter, Global Training Academy

Overcoming Criticism

In the fall of 1989, RONCO Consulting Corporation, a U.S. contractor that manages Agriculture Development Programs and Commodities Distribution for the U.S. Agency International Development (USAID), and Global Training Academy (Global), teamed up in an effort to build indigenous Pd capacities. There were always skeptical voices and adverse reactions to using dogs in humanitarian demining. In 1990, RONCO and Global were the first to utilize MDDs. We began our indigenous training of MDD handlers in Afghanistan, and then expanded the program to Mozambique.

In 1993, Doctor Vernon Joynt of Mechem, a South African commercial demining company, used dogs in a laboratory environment for testing samples collected by the Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System (MEDDS) in Mozambique. Today, this system is commonly referred to as the Remote Explosive Scent Tracing (REST) system by the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). It wasn’t until the summer of 1994 that other organizations, such as Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), began to realize the value of MDDs. In 1997, Colonel Lionel Dyck of MineTech, out of Zimbabwe, introduced MDDs into the country’s demining operation in Bosnia.

The criticism of MDDs continued in subtle ways, such as the suggestion that the commercial demining organizations using dogs were doing inferior and unreliable work. It was seldom pointed out that manual demining operations could not match the clearance productivity of those operations that utilized MDDs effectively. Moreover, demining operations that used MDDs had excellent safety records.

In the last 18 months, I have seen a broader interest in employing MDDs, and it is evident that the GICHD Demining Standards Group has done much to improve the image of the MDD. Global supports the goals of the GICHD to develop standards and provide guidance to all bonafied users of MDDs.

The Beginning

Many training and search procedures have changed in the past 14 years since Global was requested to assist with supplying MDDs to USAID’s Humanitarian Assistance Program to Afghanistan in 1989. Global became partners with RONCO, who had a USAID contract to distribute food and humanitarian relief supplies into Afghanistan. Due to the isolated mountain regions in Afghanistan, RONCO was using a combination of trucks and pack mules to deliver the relief supplies. These mules were being trained at the Animal Holding Facility in Peshawar, Pakistan. During this period of time, Doctor John Ottenburg, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, was managing the Animal Holding Facility for RONCO. Doctor Ottenburg, the lead U.S. Army veterinarian during the early 1970s in Thailand, was involved in the turnover of MDDs from the U.S. Army to the Thai army.

A major obstacle encountered by USAID and RONCO in moving clothing and food relief into Afghanistan was the large number of landmines being encountered on the roads and trails. Doctor Ottenburg made a recommendation to USAID that landmine detection dogs be used to assist in clearing the trails and roads. He explored the possibility of the Thai military assisting with the project. Doctor Ottenburg’s connection with the Thai military was beneficial in obtaining eight trained MDDs and conducting a handler-training course for the Afghan personnel. This training course was conducted at the RONCO Animal Holding Facility. The dogs and handlers were deployed in early 1989 with such success that the U.S. government decided to expand the number of MDDs.

The First Dogs

In the fall of 1989, Global was contacted by RONCO, inquiring if we had the capability to provide the trained dogs and handler training. Global then began to put together a handler course and an MDD Program. The first dogs entered training at Global in the spring of 1990 and were deployed that fall. These original MDDs were trained on landmines and tripwires. The need for tripwire detection was due to the heavy use of POMZ bounding mines that the Russians had laid in the hundreds throughout Afghanistan.

In December of 1990, Global completed the first MDD Handler Course. Our first 12 MDD teams were deployed into Afghanistan at the beginning of the Gulf War. Our next MDD course was to start in mid-January 1991, but was delayed by USAID until March of 1991. After the return of the MDD Teams from Afghanistan, we conducted a survey of the handlers as they returned to the Animal Holding Facility. The survey identified a concern of the MDD handlers that dealt with our original MDD search pattern.

Search Patterns

We originally used a search pattern known as the “figure-8 pattern.” This search pattern was used during road clearance. The handler would position his MDD facing into the wind on a 10 meter leash, which is used to assist in maintaining maximum control. Global has never trained a mine dog to work off-leash, or as some dog experts say, free-running. The MDD would search out in front of the handler normally at a distance of zero to 10 meters and was taught to sniff the ground out in front and while coming back to his handler, which ensures the dog is always in the searching mode. The handler was also trained to research an area if he was not satisfied with the dog’s original sniffing behavior or he suspected the area needed additional coverage.

The problem identified by the MDD handler(s) was that some of the mine dogs were bypassing anti-personnel mines while following the scent of a larger mine such as an anti-tank mine. The Global staff felt this was caused by the large width of the figure 8 and that the MDDs were searching with the wind in their face. In correcting this problem, the Global instructors made the following changes to the search pattern. The road clearance pattern was changed from a figure 8 to a straight-line pattern. The handler was also retrained to position himself and his MDD so that the dog searches with a crosswind. The handler would ensure his dog searched a straight line in front to a distance of 10 meters. The handler would then move to his left or right in half-meter increments, repeating the procedure until a section of the road was completely searched.

From the fall of 1990 through May of 1992, Global trained 98 MDDs, 130 handlers, 20 vets and 12 MDD trainers/supervisors for the Afghanistan Demining Dog Center. This center is the largest MDD non-governmental organization (NGO) in operation today.

MDD Operations

In January of 1993, RONCO and Global teamed up in another joint Mine Dog Program in Mozambique to assist USAID operations there. USAID’s goal was to assist in clearing the roads of landmines within Mozambique because the rural areas were inaccessible to the people. USAID wanted to provide safe travel routes for the rehabilitation of the farmlands. The road clearance also allowed the UN World Food Program to distribute a larger supply of food relief to the Mozambican population.

Between January 1993 and August 1995, Global and RONCO trained a total of 38 MDDs, 42 handlers, seven Para Vets and six MDD supervisors for Mozambique.

In January of 1996, a new Mine Dog and Demining Center was established in Rwanda. The program received funding through USAID and the U.S. Military Assistance Program, whose goal was to establish a Mine Action Center (MAC), provide training of manual deminers and establish a self-sufficient MDD Program. The objective was to make it safe for the rehabilitation of farmlands and the resettlement of rural villages.

From January 1996 until September 1999, Global trained 28 MDDs, 40 MDD handlers, six MDD supervisors and four MDD trainers for the Rwandan military.

In the summer of 1996, Global, along with RONCO, received a request to develop a mine clearance program in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was funded by the U.S. DOS. This program was to provide MDDs to each of the three entities within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Each of these three entities—the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats—received a training package that included nine mine dogs and handlers, in conjunction with a manual demining capability.

During the summer of 1997, we made another procedural change in our training and minefield clearance procedures. This change came about due to our experiences in clearing landmines within Bosnia-Herzegovina and has improved productivity and safety within the minefield.

The new search procedure in the minefield is as follows: once a minefield or suspect area is identified, it is divided into eight-to-10-meter square blocks. Safe lanes are made around each block. Dividing the minefield in this manner serves two purposes. First, it makes it easier for the manual deminer and/or MDD team to identify areas where tripwires may cross the minefield. Second, it makes it so that when there are drastic wind changes during a search, the handler can reposition himself and his dog safely around the block, ensuring timely completion of clearing an area without having to move throughout the minefield.

By June of 1997, Global, along with RONCO, had trained and equipped each of the three Bosnian entities with a mine dog unit of nine and a manual demining capacity.

Central America
In the fall of 1998, three additional MDD training programs began in Central America: Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The MDD training was funded by the U.S. DOS and monitored by the Organization of American States (OAS). The original MDD handler training took place in Honduras with each country sending four potential handler candidates. The first MDD teams were deployed into the minefields in their respective countries in January of 1999.

The program within Nicaragua expanded to 12 MDDs due the high infestation of landmines. The Nicaraguan military eventually developed the ability to train their own MDDs. They have trained two additional MDDs and an additional six replacement handlers at their training facility just outside of Managua. Nicaragua is expected to be mine-safe in 2005. Costa Rica was declared mine-safe in 2002 and Honduras is expected to be mine-safe in 2004.

Working With the U.S. Department of State

In the spring of 2000, the U.S. DOS’s Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs (HDP) funded RONCO and Global to train six MDDs to work with an NGO, which receives funding through the United Nations. The organization is known as the Accelerated Demining Program (ADP) in Maputo, Mozambique. The ADP’s program was the second instance in which HDP provided MDD assets to a pre-existing demining operation. The first time was to assist the OAS in Central America. The ADP’s program was the first where MDDs were specifically trained to work in minefields that had been prepared for demining use by flail machines. The use of MDDs in areas cleared by the flails has broadened the utilization of MDDs in demining operations.

In 2000, HDP funded a separate MDD (12 dogs) demining operation in Beira, Mozambique. This operation was to clear the railroad lines within central Mozambique in order to improve travel and trade. This project was completed in the fall of 2002.

During the year 2000, HDP funded RONCO and Global to accomplish the following tasks in Thailand:

In the spring of 2001, HDP established the Quick Reaction Demining Force (QRDF). The QRDF has eight MDD teams and manual deminers assigned. Their mission is to deploy to hot spots anywhere in the world that the United States has an interest in emergency demining. This group has been deployed to three locations in the last 18 months—Sri Lanka, Nigeria and twice to Sudan.

In 2001, HDP funded RONCO and Global to support humanitarian demining operations in the following countries, each of which was provided with MDDs.

In late spring of 2002, HDP funded a humanitarian demining operation with the military forces of Armenia. The requirement was to build a MAC, provide training for manual deminers and establish an MDD program. Seven MDDs were entered into training, and in September of 2002, five MDD handler teams completed training. These teams were deployed with a manual demining group in October of 2002.


In summation, the use of MDDs has become a very important tool in safe and efficient demining operations. Even though Global received much criticism about the use of dogs in humanitarian demining, much success has come from the program. Dogs deployed to many minefields around the world have greatly enhanced the productivity of the local manual demining teams. Having proved the effectiveness of MDDs in support of humanitarian demining operations, Global and RONCO are now the main contractors for MDDs for the U.S. HDP.

Contact Information

Dan Hayter
Global Training Academy, Inc.
PO Box 445
Somerset TX 78069
Tel: 210-622-9460
Fax: 830-429-3122