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Apr 03, 2023

Good boy

Dogs can now be used to sniff out lithium batteries in shipments after just a

Dogs can now be used to sniff out lithium batteries in shipments after just a month of training.

In a demonstration on stage at the CNS Partnership conference in Miami this week, German short-haired pointer Rodney decisively sat by a particular box, after having sniffed his way past others, and looked hard at his handler – the box contained two small batteries.

Rodney was trained by Global K9 Protection Group, whose main business is operating teams of dogs and handlers to find explosives. While as yet no one has employed the dogs for lithium battery detection, airlines and ground handlers are starting to consider it.

"There are no standards right now for lithium battery detection, but we think this could be a big deal," explained Jeff Koehl, EVP customer experience, at Global K9.

"Undeclared lithium batteries in shipments pose a major threat. There are shippers that don't want to pay dangerous goods charges, so don't declare batteries, which are present in mail and e-commerce.

"Ground handlers could find it useful for a certain product line, such as e-commerce, and we are talking to some airlines in Asia and the Middle East – although not US carriers as yet. Non-US airlines are pushing it more."

One issue for lithium battery detection is cross-contamination of a smell, but Global K9 said that was relatively easy to work around by moving shipments.

The challenge for Global K9 is that there is no mandate to find lithium batteries in shipments, and companies are not necessarily keen to pay if they don't have to.

"We are talking to the FAA, but we don't have to stick to any particular protocols," Mr Koehl told The Loadstar. "We have too many rules as it is. We work with regulators but most people aren't anxious for more rules."

Dogs are commonly used for explosives detection across the US, following the 100% screening programme, and there are now about 1,000 teams of handler and dog; Global K9 has about a 40% market share domestically. It said lithium battery detection could be run alongside normal cargo screening.

"Cargo accounts for a good portion of our business, but we are also growing on the commercial side – we do events such as sports and concerts, and we are taking dogs into schools to detect firearms. We also look for narcotics at amusement parks."

Rodney's handler said almost any breed of dog could be trained, although Global K9 tends to use Pointers, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Labradors and the odd Cocker Spaniel, but discarded the idea of rescued dogs. Trained dogs have to be healthy, in particular their hips, elbows and backs, to work, the handler explained.

"Pound dogs are a bit of a crapshoot. It's not cost-effective."

The dogs receive rewards-based training: Rodney's particular incentive to work is ball play after he sniffs out a problem. Many of the handlers are ex-military, and Global K9 runs a skills programme for those transitioning into civilian life. It takes up to eight weeks to train a team from scratch and Global K9's methodology has been validated by the US Department of Defense.