If you like creatures of the canine persuasion with pointed ears, such as German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or — gasp — corgis, get ready to say goodbye to them at an airport near you. (Okay, they don’t actually use corgis as security dogs).
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will soon be moving to a “floppy ear” force, because dogs with pointed ears “scare children,” according to a report from the Washington Examiner.
"We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA ... to use floppy ear dogs," TSA Administrator David Pekoske told reporters during a recent tour of operations at Washington Dulles International Airport.
"We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern," Pekoske added. "Doesn’t scare children."
My former Examiner colleague Anna Giaritelli reports that the TSA currently has 1,200 doggos across the country performing security checks, and about 80% have floppy ears (such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers). In order to phase out the remaining 20%, the TSA is replacing retiring pointed-ear dogs with their floppy-eared cousins. Further, the TSA is purchasing sporting or hunting breeds, since they are easier to find.
“TSA uses five types of sporting breeds: Labrador Retrievers, German Short-haired Pointers, Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas, and Golden Retrievers,” Giaritelli wrote. “It also uses two types of pointy-ear, or working breed, dogs: the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.”
Christopher Shelton, branch manager of the San Antonio, TX, canine training center, told Giaritelli that the TSA wouldn’t rule out a pointy-eared pup just because of his or her ears. The dog’s health, willingness and ability to sniff out security risks and its disposition still matter more. Training these dogs costs between $26,000 and $42,000, so the agency can’t be too picky about looks.
The decision to use more floppy-eared dogs is not a formal one, rather, it was an informal internal decision, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told Giaritelli.
DID YOU KNOW?
Two-thirds of the TSA dogs smell baggage for explosives and can be pulled from the airport to assist law enforcement in an emergency.
"If there’s a bomb scare somewhere else in that town, they’ll pull that dog. We train them at our expense. We provide the dogs," Shelton told the Examiner.
Also, while you can’t pet these Very Good Boys and Girls while they’re working, you can get a card from their handler that features their picture and some information about the pup. TSA’s public affairs office makes the cards so the dog’s handlers can hand them out to those of us who can’t pass a pup without wanting to pet him or her. (I’m totally going to get one of these the next time I fly.)
The TSA also offers an adoption program for pups who didn’t meet the agency’s “criteria for government work.”
“These dogs are highly active and in most cases, untrained and not house broken, but with proper training and care, they can be a great addition to families. On occasion, there are dogs that have been retired from government service,” the TSA wrote on its website.