Arlington, VA

Spike likes playing frisbee, playing with a chew toy, and sniffing out explosive chemicals in Reagan National Airport.

The black labrador retriever is one of four — soon to be five — explosives detection canines patrolling the airport. This morning (Monday), Spike led a public demonstration at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint to show off his nose and teach the public about airport bomb dogs for National Dog Day.

Daniel La Rose, Spike’s handler, says the daily grind of ensuring the safety of the travelling public is made better for Spike by making sure every activity feels fun and rewarding.

“It has to be interesting for the dog,” La Rose said, “he needs to feel productive.”

Activities include searches throughout the airport, and sometimes aboard aircraft and checked baggage areas. A lot of the work is what La Rose calls “cutting the wake” — walking past crowds as the dog sniffs through the wafted scents, kind of like going through the wake of a boat.

The dogs smell in ingredients, Daniel La Rose said. A lot of lotions, makeup and perfumes share some chemical elements with explosives, so La Rose warned that passengers wearing heavy perfume for their plane trip may attract the attention of explosives dogs.

Spike needs frequent stimulation. La Rose said it looks easy, but the daily job is a lot of work finding ways to keep the dog constantly positive and active.

Sometimes the Spike will be taken through areas where dummies are planted for the dog to find, to keep him training and to earn playtime with La Rose. The dogs work for play, La Rose explained, not treats. Every day is a game of hide and seek, with a few minutes playing with a tennis ball or a loving pat on the head the reward for a job well done.

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