K9 Research at the Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy Laboratory
It sounds deceptively simple when we say that we do K9 Research at our laboratory situated on the Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy campus near Pretoria, the Capital City of South Africa. Reality however demands rather complicated precision work to be done in order to produce realistic, scientifically proven results.
Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy boasts its own K9 Research unit and specialized laboratory, founded by owner John Greyvenstein, who holds a BSc (Zoology) (Hons) and an MSc in Genetics. His MSc thesis was dedicated to Working Dogs.
The K9 Research unit made a significant breakthrough during the first half of 2005 in the detection of narcotics and explosives by sniffer dogs, making the process much more accurate while avoiding potentially dangerous side effects for both Handler and Dog.
The Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy team developed training aids that contain a small amount of the vapor of a target substance. Dangerous substances like explosives and narcotics are tamed in the process because of the techniques applied (which adhere to the requirements of the Chief Inspector of Explosives as well as those of the Medicines Control Board).
The aids are not dangerous to either trainer or dog, and cannot be abused by anybody. With proper precautions they can also easily be protected against contamination, and be stored securely. During trial runs internationally, resounding success was achieved with both the preparing and testing of training material, and the training and assessing of dogs and handlers.
Doctor Fanie van der Walt
Braveheart is fortunate to have an internationally respected scientist in charge of their laboratory, in the person of Doctor Fanie van der Walt. Dr Fanie holds a PhD degree in Chemistry. His BSc degree studies comprised Chemistry and Physics as main subjects, Mathematics 2, and Applied Mathematics 1. His Honors Degree comprised Organic and Inorganic Physics, and his MSc (Chemistry) thesis was written on an enzyme in a plant species called the Bitter Cucumber. His PhD script was on developing an enzyme from Puff adder poison.
Dr Fanie worked as a scientist at Mechem, where they developed amongst other things a technique to detect land mines. His first interest in dog related K9 Research was triggered when he received an inquiry on whether the CSIR (the South African Council for Industrial K9 Research) could supply a pure odor of substances whi
ch could be used in the training of detection (sniffer) dogs for the detection of explosives (bombs). The main challenge was to find a way to expose the dog to the correct odor without creating a possibility of the active substance being misused, or could harm the very sensitive smelling organ of the dog.
The first experiment was to mix the explosives with sand, but it did not completely eliminate the possibility of contamination. Dr Fanie then decided to experiment with paper (cometographic). The only cost-effective paper that he thought could work was blotting paper, which was inert against most chemical substances.
His experiments showed that it rendered good results, although it could not be determined 100% how “clean” the
paper was. The actual target substance also had to be prepared in a “clean” fashion. It therefor has to be put through a series of purifying processes. Although it is not financially viable to purchase the most accurate apparatus to ensure a 100% “clean” end product, the main requirement – non-contamination – is achieved.
A visiting delegation from the British Police’s forensic laboratory some years ago brought with them a gas comptograph, which enabled samples being taken to establish pureness. These confirmed the suitability of the process and end product.
Dr Fanie and John M Greyvenstein, founder and MD of Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy started
working together during the early nineties to develop and produce vapor strips to be used for training Narcotics Detection dogs. John M Greyvenstein holds an MSc degree in Genetics, and did his thesis on Working Dogs.
Dr Fanie retired in in 2001, and from then on could focus all his attention on the Braveheart Bio-Dog Academy laboratory’s K9 Research. Repeated reference has already been made to the sensitivity of a dog’s smelling organ. Perhaps this is the opportune time to take a closer look at this very intricate and powerful organ:
John M Greyvenstein (MSc Genetics)
John M Greyvenstein has lectured internationally (IFSEC and Homeland Security USA /UK) on training methods – which are now supported by specific K9 Research using MRI and other specialized equipment. The dog’s emotions can to a large extent be compared with human emotions. All the above form part of communicating with a dog – and the focus point is that you want it to communicate with its nose – give it an odor that associates with the relevant substance. It is also important that there should be no competing odor(s) that can contaminate the pureness of the relevant odor.
Regarding the layout of the laboratory, care was taken to ensure that explosives, for instance would not contaminate the whole area. The table has a granite slate, because it is easier to keep clean (uncontaminated) than wood; wash basins are made
from stainless steel or ceramics to ensure non-contamination.
Dr Fanie also points out the danger inherent in TATP (Mother of Satan) explosives; and how dogs should be trained to achieve a better/more accurate outcome. Features which make TATP so dangerous are for instance, the fact that it could be manufactured in a normal kitchen; and that as little as 3g (one teaspoon full) of the substance would detonate when lit – superseding the speed of sound. It could also be detonated by friction or an impact. By comparison, commercial explosives need a detonator which could include the use of batteries and wires, and/or other power sources, housed in metal – which will be detected by x-ray machines.
Leaders through Research