A dog's olfactory capacity to find explosives has proved highly effective. MDDs are primarily drawn from two breeds: German Shepherds and Belgian Malois. Two other breeds of dog are used in small numbers or are believed to possess MDD potential: retrievers, such as Labradors, and scent hounds, such as Beagles. MDDs are trained to detect explosive-odor signatures, such as TNT, the scent of monofilament line, metallic wire used in booby traps and mines, or any combination of these. Dogs are trained to ignore other odors and distractions, and are rewarded when they alert their handler to an odor they are trained to recognize. Initial training lasts eight to 10 weeks, followed by another eight- to 10-week period of advanced training for the MDDs to bond with their handler. This latter period also allows the dogs to acclimatize to the country in which they have been chosen to work. Their extensive training in detection capabilities is crucial to identify nonmetallic or plastic-encased mines, demining near or on steel bridges and railroad tracks, and demining in iron-bearing laterite soils that render metal detectors virtually ineffective.
MDDs have proved to be highly effective, mobile, and affordable. There are approximately 620 MDDs either conducting operations or in training in 23 countries around the world; 162 of these dogs are in Afghanistan. Seventeen other countries in the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program use MDDs: Albania, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Eritrea, Honduras, Lebanon, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Oman, Rwanda, Somaliland, and Thailand. In addition, the U.S.-funded QRDF used MDDs in mine-clearance operations in Sri Lanka and Sudan during the spring and summer of 2002. Dogs are able to work in about 90 percent of the terrain where humans operate, whereas flails, rollers, and sifters—because of their design and operating limitations—operate in a mere fraction of all the types of terrain. Moreover, dogs are environmentally friendly, whether working agricultural lands or urban areas, whereas machinery and explosive charges can disturb or destroy areas where they are used.
The landmine community considers MDDs as a valuable and reliable demining resource. In many situations, when combined with manual or mechanical-demining techniques, dogs contribute greatly in expediting the return of mine-affected land, infrastructure, and other facilities to a safe and useful condition in a cost-effective manner.