Specialist Canine Search Assets; Value for Money Framework


In recent communications with a number of businesses and policy makers, a topic that keep arising is ‘How does one engage with a canine search asset that can deliver the most “bang for buck?”’. The key to answering this is to start with a Value For Money framework (VFM).

In our current economic climate, financial budget restrictions are increasingly under consideration in the provision of search resources. A VFM can be defined as the optimal use of proficient resources to achieve intended outcomes and maximise the impact of spending to achieve and maintain strategic search effectiveness. This naturally ensures a party is not paying more for a service than is justified by its quality or availability.

When a specialist search dog is deployed under a VFM, they are a cost-effective search solution. Their acquisition cost is low, they are easily transportable, operate in an array of complex environments, and can rapidly screen vast areas with high efficacy and sensitivity.

Search is the application and management of systematic procedures and appropriate detection contexts. It requires the application of mission focused systems combined with subject matter experts (SME), supported by scientific validation of detection resources. Searching is to be completed by trained, proficient and operationally experienced persons, combined with scientific instrumentation, forensic analysis and canine olfaction. Policies and strategies may dictate the use of one or more systems to secure high levels of proficiency and effectiveness.

It is of great importance that the search strategy is to apply appropriate, proficient and effective use of resources, at a location that is dictated by intelligence, in the correct sequence, and in a timely fashion to maximise the percentage likelihood of achieving the mission. Focus must remain on the ultimate aim of the mission: to ascertain the presence or absence of the mission target, with a very high degree of confidence. In order to maximise the likelihood of achieving successful outcomes, it is important that the search strategy proficiently employs resources; at an appropriate location (as indicated by intelligence), correctly sequenced, and in an appropriate timeframe. In order to ensure the validation of the canine search team, and their ability to provide reliable and accurate outcomes for the mission, it is incumbent on those seeking out canine services to do their due diligence and request all professional licenses provided by appropriate governing bodies, along with sighting records of continuing training and maintenance of all associated licensing.

Search canines represent a single element of potential search resources (including eg. scientific instrumentation, forensic analysis, human resources and intelligence).  Circumstances such as context, environment or intelligence may dictate the appropriateness of use of canine resources and their deployment should be considered and reserved for situations where their use is likely to enhance the success of the mission. Canine resources should not be considered the primary search tool of a mission, rather, deployed in support of other resources or for the performance of a final sweep to increase confidence.

It is widely known that the mechanics of a VFM framework are subsumed under the following subheadings: Economy, efficiency, effectiveness, ethical. VFM in relation to detection canines rests entirely on proficiency and mission impact.


Key Principles


Cost-consciousness is the central aspect of a VFM framework, it ensures that cost are kept low. However, even though economy is a central aspect it should never be pursued without consideration of the impact on effectiveness or efficiency.


Specialist search dogs, if properly trained and validated within a framework that encompasses strategic mission proficiencies, provide a fast, robust, non-invasive, highly sensitive search asset.

Evidence based decision making

Evidence based decision making requires systematic, structured and rational approaches to decision making, framed around accurate analysis often in conjunction with subject matter experts (SME). This provides the opportunity to exclude any processes that have not been successful in the past.

Mission impact

Performance is an integral part of a VFM framework, the canine search teams must be validated, and proficiency tested in accordance with the agencies policies. Furthermore, trainers are provided with many opportunities to calibrate their search asset in order to maximise their efficiency. It is incumbent on business or agency to request current training records (from a qualified subject matter expert) to ensure performance targets are met.


To maximise impact, creative and flexible approaches to the design and delivery of search assets is required. This can be fostered through the offsite experimentation of innovative mechanisms where there are reasonable grounds to a superior overall outcome. An example of this is the remote sampling methodology developed some years ago, where a dynamic airflow system was used to capture VOCs from targets to be investigated. A common air sampling device was an STU100, which would draw air from the target through a filter capturing the VOCs. The filter is then carefully stored (following rigid specs and guidelines) in order to be screened by detection canines in a controlled setting such as a laboratory.

Canines Search Asset

Detection dogs, when highly trained and validated are a robust resource that fits nicely in a VFM framework. I have outlined several reasons why the application of a detection dogs in a training development framework focusing on strategic mission outcomes, provide VFM;

  • Acquisition and maintenance cost are low in comparison to instrumentation.
  • Specialist canine search teams can screen areas at a far greater rate than that of human teams.
  • They are able to detect targets so small that they are invisible to the naked eye and therefore would not be found using traditional methods.
  • Teams can screen large quantities of items in quick succession and routinely sustain that over long periods.
  • The canine search asset provides a very adaptable and mobile resource. A well-conditioned dog can perform in an array of contexts both on land and sea.
  • They are not reliant on digital technology and all the flaws associated with signaling, recharging and other disruptions.
  • They learn through experience and their capability gets richer when frequently deployed.
  • Easy to maintain and require far lower maintenance cost compared to electrically powered instrumentation.

Canine search assets are directly related to end user requirements. To achieve this outcome, it involves the support of effective search resources that provide a very high level of assurance. Management will determine the resource that will be selected under a VFM framework through robust policy design centered around the end users and the delivery of search resources.


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