Location: The baggage claim area at Pittsburgh International Airport
Featured guests: Amy Ireland of the Allegheny County Police Department K9 Unit, her dog Luna, and their human and canine friends
3 things that surprised me:
1. Though the dogs are owned by the Allegheny County Police Department, officer Amy says that each dog lives with their assigned officers. Her dog, Luna, comes home with her every night and is a member of her family — and Amy’s best friend.
2. Each officer and dog attend a 12-week training program at the Transportation Security Administration’s National Canine Training Center at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. While the dogs are learning to follow commands and hone their smelling abilities, the humans are learning to communicate better with their canine partners.
3. After the dogs successfully sniff out a test bomb during training, I expected them to be rewarded with a bone or other tasty treat. Instead, each dog is rewarded with a toy. I asked Amy about the lack of treats and she explained that there was so much food in the airport — the dogs are probably already snacking on crushed Cheez-Its and other edible bits left by the thousands of travelers — that a food reward might not be compelling enough. Instead, they figure out which toy each dog loves most — whether a squeaker or KONG or squid-like thing — and only let the dog play with it after a successful training session.
One thing that didn’t make the final cut: Amy says that she and Luna are the first all-female human/canine team in the department. One of their regular assignments is sniffing out the tunnel underneath Acrisure Stadium where the Steelers enter the arena on game days.
Additional info: You can learn more about the K9 Unit at the Allegheny County Police Department website.