The United States is trying to increase the number of bomb detection dogs available. There is a lot of competition between the Department of Defense and domestic security needs. The dogs are heavily used for screening air passengers and cargo. In Iraq, the dogs are essential when searching for weapons caches, which are often buried, or stored in specially built compartments in buildings or vehicles. While a basic military dog (for patrols and general security) costs $60,000 to train, a top-line explosives detection dogs cost over $100,000 to train. This takes about 30 months, and the dogs must be able to successfully detect nine different explosive types, 95 percent of the time before they are ready for service. Dogs are retested every year. The Department of Defense has over two thousand trained dogs in service, but won't say how many of them are the elite bomb sniffing types.
During World War II, some 10,425 dogs were taken into U.S. military service, with another 1.500 mobilized for the Korean war. In the Vietnam war, some 4,000 dogs were trained, many of them to detect explosives, or enemy troops lying in wait to spring an ambush. For Iraq, a special flak jacket was developed for dogs used in dangerous situations. Costing about a thousand dollars each, the Kevlar protective vests protect the dogs from stab wounds, shell fragments and some bullets. The K-9 Protective Vests weigh about seven pounds, which for a 90 pound German Shepard, is about the same burden as the 17 pound vest worn by the troops. The K-9 vests have some special features as well. There are compartments on the inside of the vests for the insertion of cold packs (soft, flat plastic bags containing a chemical that, when activated, becomes very cool). Since dogs do not deal with heat as effectively as humans (dogs don't sweat), and Iraq is a very warm place in the Summer, the cold packs can prevent heat stroke. There are also attachments on the vest to enable the dog to be dropped by parachute, or hauled up via a rope. The vests hinder the dogs mobility a bit, especially when they are jumping. But the dogs have quickly adjusted to the vests, and their new job of finding explosives in bombs, bullets or IEDs.