Arlington, Virginia – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made an internal informal decision to swap out pointy-eared K9s for floppy-eared K9s, in an effort to make the security dogs appear less scary.
"We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA...to use floppy ear dogs," TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner during a recent tour at Washington Dulles International Airport.
"We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern," Pekoske explained. "Doesn’t scare children."
Branch Manager Christopher Shelton, who heads up the TSA Canine Training Center in San Antonio, Texas, said that the agency will still consider the overall quality of a prospective K9, and that a pointy-eared dog would likely not be ruled out simply because of its appearance.
The K9’s disposition, willingness to detect odors, and health are the primary factors considered during the selection process.
Many breeders have also begun moving towards more floppy-eared breeds, Shelton said.
The TSA currently uses five “sporting breed” K9s, including German Shorthaired Pointers, Vizslas, Golden Retrievers, Wirehaired Pointers, and Labrador Retrievers, according to the Washington Examiner.
The agency also uses two “working breed,” pointy-eared K9s – the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd.
During the course of the past year, 80 percent of the K9s TSA purchased were floppy-eared.
The agency uses approximately 1,200 K9s throughout the nation. About two-thirds of the force is utilized to check for explosives in baggage, while the remaining one-third screen airport passengers.
The K9s can also help nearby law enforcement agencies in emergency situations, such as a bomb threat.
“We train them at our expense,” Shelton explained. “We provide the dogs.”
It costs anywhere between $26,000 and $42,000 to train a K9 and human partner, the Washington Examiner reported.