How police dogs are keeping our airports safe

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EAST ELMHURST, Queens — Airport security has gone to the dogs.  But in this case that's a good thing.

"I've seen him pickup odor from 250 feet away and work right to source with no problem," said TSA Canine Handler Steve Sanzillo.

While most dogs are trained to sniff out treats, Sanzillo's dog Teddy, along with black Labradors Buddy and Willie are trained to sniff out something far more sinister — explosives.

"They're incredibly important to the TSA mission," said Federal Security Director Daniel Ronan.  "Our mission is to keep aviation safe and secure.  One of the biggest threats to aviation is explosives. So finding explosives, detecting them early, keeping them off airplanes is absolutely critical."

For more than two years the detective dogs have been protecting passengers at LaGuardia Airport by sniffing passersby before they get on a plane.

Other pups patrol JFK and Newark. The dogs are effective because their nose, knows how distinguish smells from one another, unlike humans.

"Let's say you have a cheeseburger.  We can smell the cheeseburger.  He can smell the ketchup, the bun, the burger, the pickles, mayonnaise, the bacon, whatever's on.  He breaks it all up," said Handler Michelle Ramos.

The dogs are trained to distinguish a dozen different explosive smells.

So far the dogs haven't hit any real explosives, but Wednesday the pups showed off their skills by alerting their partners when a decoy carrying explosives passed by.

"It's like watching-your-child-take-its-first-step kind of feeling," said Handler Tommy Karathomas.

The key to tracking the explosives lies in instant gratification.  Each dog has their own special toy that they get to play with as soon as they find what they're looking for.

"To him it's a game," said Sanzillo.  "So if he can get that toy, he's all about it."

The work can be rough, sometimes days are 12 or 13 hours long.

But judging by the wagging tails, the dogs seem happy with their jobs.

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