Mine Dogs

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The Evolution of the Mine dogs and the 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, owner Global Training Academy

Overcoming Criticism

There were always skeptical voices and adverse reactions to using dogs in humanitarian demining. In 1990, was the first to utilize MDDs. We began our indigenous training of mine dog s handlers in Afghanistan, and then expanded the program in 1993 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 (2002) 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.

Mine Dogs

Mine Detection Dogs Kandahar Afghanistan 2004

The Beginning

Many training and search procedures have changed in the past 14 years since Global was requested to assist with supplying mine dogs to USAID’s Humanitarian Assistance Program to Afghanistan in 1989.

Afghanistan has a large number of landmines encountered on roads and trails. A recommendation was made to USAID that landmine detection dogs be used to assist in clearing the trails and roads. The dogs and handlers were deployed in early 1989 with such success that the U.S. government decided to expand the number of mine dogs.

The First Dogs

In the fall of 1989, Global was contacted 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 mine dogs 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 mine dogs 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 mine dogs 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, Global and RONCO 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 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 mine dogs, 40 MDD handlers, six MDD supervisors and four MDD trainers for the Rwandan military.


In the summer of 1996, Global 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 mine dogs 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 Deminers and/or mine dogs 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 had trained and equipped each of the three Bosnian entities with a mine dog unit of nine a total of 27 MDDs.

Central America
In the fall of 1998, three additional MDD training programs began in Central America: Honduras (4 MDDs), Nicaragua (4 MDDs) and Costa Rica (4 MDDs). 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 was declared mine free 2005.

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 Global to train 6 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 MDDs) 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 Global to accomplish the following tasks in Thailand:

  • Establish a MAC and furnish technical assistance in training the Thai military to operate the center.
  • Provide training and technical assistance in manual and mechanical demining procedures.
  • Provide the Thai military Mine Dog Center (MDC) with training assistance in updating their MDD program. This program has provided 28 MDDs and handler training. It also has provided four MDD trainer instructors, who will complete their training in the summer of 2003.

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 1999 RONCO, Global Training Academy entered into a working relationship with MLI (Marshall Legacy Institute) which is a non-profit organization. MLI works directly with HDP in funding Mine Dogs and Victim Assistance Programs in worn torn countries. MLI  sponsored its first 12 MDDs which were deployed to Nicaragua, this program was administered by RONCO with GTA providing all the training.  

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

  • Eritrea received 6 MDDs from MLI in 2001 and an additional 6 MDDs from HDP in 2002. All the dogs were fully deployed in the minefields.
  • Oman received 4 MDDs from HDP in the spring of 2001, with all dogs being deployed in the fall of 2001.
  • Lebanon received its first 6 MDDs funded jointly by HDP and MLI in the spring of 2001, and a second group of 7 MDDs, which were sponsored by  HDP in the spring of 2002. Lebanon received an additional 5 mine dogs the spring of 2003. All MDDs are deployed working behind flails and conducting quality assurance.
  • Azerbaijan MDD operations commenced in September of 2001 with Global initially providing 6 leased MDD teams out of Bosnia. One of the lease dogs was replaced due to illness in the fall of 2001. These 6 MDDs were donated to the Azerbaijan Mine Action Clearance Program. Global Training Academy trained local nationals to handle the MDDs. The second indigenous MDD handler course, which commenced in the spring of 2002, consisted of 7 new MDDs. A third handler/supervisors course was conducted in August of 2002, which added 3 additional MDDs later that year.
  • In late spring of 2002, HDP and MLI 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. MDDs were entered into training, and in September of 2002, 5 MDD handler teams completed training. These teams were deployed with a manual demining group in October of 2002.


In summation, the use of mine dogs 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 is now the main contractor for MDDs for the U.S.  PM WRA.


The US Army Engineers (2003-2005) contracted through RONCO and MLI the training of 20 MDD handlers and supervisors and furnished 13 MDDs, for deployment to Afghanistan with GTA providing all the state side training and field certifications in Afghanistan.  Since the initial 13 MDDs the US Army has stood up its own MDD training center at Fort Leonardwood MO.


The following MDD’s and Handler training was conducted by Global Training Academy and implemented by our sponsors in the following countries over the past 14 years.

  • Armenia (MLI/PM WRA) 12 MDDs in 2002-2003
  • Thailand  (MLI/PM WRA) 6 MDDs in 2003
  • Thailand  (PM WRA) 18 MDDs in 2004-2005
  • IMCO Iraq (PM WRA) 12 MDDs 2004-2008
  • Sri Lanka (PM WRA/MLI) 13 MDD’s 2004-2005
  • Bosnia (MLI) 6 MDD’s in 2003
  • Azerbaijan (PM WRA/MLI) 6 MDDs in 2005-2008
  • Afghanistan (PM WRA/MLI) 18 MDDs 2007-2009
  • Lebanon (MLI) 3 additional MDDs 2008
  • Northern Iraq, (PM WRA/MLI) MAG (Kurdistan) 6 MDDs 2009
  • Southern Iraq, IMCO (Basrah Area) (PM WRA/MLI) 12 MDDs 2010-Present
  • Sri Lanka  (PM WRA/MLI) 13 MDDs 2011-Present

Continuing MDD Education: (MLI/GTA)

  • Afghanistan 2011, Trained Mine Action Center in IMAS Evaluations of MDDs
  • Iraq Mine Action Centers  2013- 2014 Trained in IMAS Evaluations of MDDs
  • Yemen 2014 scheduled to train the MAC in IMAS Standards