DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As millions of people fly during the Thanksgiving holiday, they may be more focused on being with their family and friends than the effort to keep them safe.
A layer of security at DFW International Airport, and other airports across the country, involves canines and their handlers trained to detect explosives.
The TSA’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio has been operating for 16 years.
The agency said there are as many as 20 canine teams at DFW Airport; one of them including Raquel Granados and her partner, Szultan, the German Short-Hair Pointer.
After working as a TSA passenger screener at the airport for about a year, Granados applied for and was accepted into the canine program.
“I always wanted to do this,” said Granados. “I wanted to protect people to keep people safe. I’ve been wanting to work with canines since I was very, very young.”
Granados and Szultan have been inseparable since August 31, when they started training together for the 10 to 12 week program.
They’re trained to search inside aircraft, to sniff out explosives in cargo, luggage, and passengers in a terminal.
The dogs are also trained to do so in buses, ferries, and trains.
“It’s a reminder everyday, you can’t make mistakes out there,” said Granadoa. “I want to be 100% so he’s 100%.”
At Lackland Air Force Base, the TSA trains between 140 and 170 canines at any given time and their training can change if there’s a new threat.
“We work with other branches within TSA, intelligence, explosive ordinances to make sure what we’re doing at the Canine Training Center is the most current and the most relevant and constantly looking at the emerging threats that are out there,” said Johnny Loftin, assistant supervisory air marshal in charge at the canine training center.
He said if someone tried to bring an explosive to the airport, the canines would be able to detect and deter it.
Rick Reidel is a TSA training instructor team leader assigned to Granados and her dog, as well as other teams.
He’s worked with canines his entire career– first at the United States Department of Defense for 20 years before continuing his career at the canine training center.
“They have to be able to interpret what the dog is telling them at the time when they’re in that odor plume and so if they can read that nuance, that change of behavior that we teach them to read, they’re going to be successful in life with that dog,” said Reidel.
Granados said her dog Szultan graduated as the top dog in the TSA program at Lackland in November and they’re now assigned to DFW Airport.
“The work we do is so important,” said Granados. “It is overlooked sometimes because you’re at the airport, long lines, things like that and when you see this guy around, you know you’re safe.”
The dogs are evaluated often and must be certified each year to make sure they’re at the top of their game.
Loftin said if they don’t pass, they receive additional training until they’re able to receive certification.