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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Contact: Public Affairs Division

February 2013

Explosives And Accelerant Detection Canines


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is a leading source of specially trained explosives and accelerant detection canine teams. These teams—assigned to local, state, other federal law enforcement agencies and selected foreign countries—regularly lend support to investigations and security efforts. Congress has recognized the National Odor Recognition Testing Standard as the proficiency standard used by ATFF and the benchmark for effective canine explosives detection.


ATF is the principal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dedicated to combating firearm-, explosives-, and arson-related violent crime and contributing to the all-of-Government effort to prevent terrorism. ATF is committed to investigating and reducing crimes involving firearms, explosives and acts of arson using ATF-trained explosives and accelerant detection canines.

The Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 (Public Law 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009-369 § 653(a)) reads, “The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to establish scientific certification standards for explosives detection canines, and shall provide, on a reimbursable basis, for the certification of explosives detection canines employed by Federal agencies, or other agencies providing explosives detection services at airports in the United States.” This authority transferred with ATF upon the agency’s move to DOJ.

On Aug. 11, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General issued a Memorandum Regarding the Coordination of Explosives Investigations and Related Matters. This memorandum outlines the coordination of explosives investigations by DOJ law enforcement components. Item 20 of this memorandum reads, As soon as practicable, all Department components that use explosives detection canines shall use only canines certified by ATF.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 19, Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States, directs federal agencies to research, develop, test, and evaluate activities relating to the detection and prevention of, protection against, and response to explosives attacks and the development of explosives render-safe tools and technologies.


ATF developed the explosive detection canine program to combat the explosives threat in the United States and abroad. The arson detection canine program fights the threat domestically and in Canada. ATF is also at the forefront of combating terrorism through such innovative programs as training local, state, federal and international law enforcement explosives detection canines in detecting peroxide explosives, using its years of experience training its own ATF-certified explosives detection canine teams on these substances.

In 1984, ATF developed an accelerant detection canine pilot project that resulted in the creation of an accelerant detection system that offered an immediate advantage over field instruments. In 1990, ATF began a joint program with the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program to produce a more effective explosives detection canine capable of detecting a greater variety of explosives than those under existing programs. The canines are capable of detecting 19,000 explosives compounds. A major advantage in using the canine is their mobility – a significant improvement over fixed detector installations that a terrorist can circumvent when placing a bomb or smuggling explosives.

Since 1991, ATF has trained 777 explosives detection canines and 166 accelerant detection canines. These dogs and their ATF-trained handlers have been located throughout the United States in local police and fire departments, fire marshal offices, and federal and state law enforcement agencies, as well as in 22 international countries.

Currently, there are 32 ATF-trained explosives detection canine teams with ATF special agent canine handlers, and 100 ATF-trained explosives detection canine teams deployed throughout the United States with local, state or other federal agencies. There are 375 explosives detection canine teams in other countries and 57 ATF-trained accelerant detection canine teams currently active in the United States and one in Canada.

ATF Resources

The ATF National Canine Training and Operations Center is located in Front Royal, VA. The 20,000-square-foot training building allows for climate-controlled, year-round training with office space for support personnel. The state-of-the-art kennel facility can accommodate 100 canines and incorporates the latest technology in kennel design. ATF is DOJ’s detection canine component.