The new pack of bomb-sniffing dogs

Vapor Wake Dog
K9 Lex patrols Penn Station September 9, 2011 in New York City. A 4-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, Lex is trained and certified in "Vapor Wake" explosive tracking and detection. U.S. government officials said yesterday evening that there is a "specific, credible but unconfirmed threat" to the U.S. homeland as the 9/11 anniversary approaches and that New York and Washington were specifically mentioned as possible targets.
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/

LOS ANGELES - A plainclothes LAPD officer moves through crowds at LAX's international terminal, carrying a hidden quantity of plastic explosives hidden in a bag.

It's up to Izzy, one of a growing new breed of counter-terrorism specialists known as "vapor wake" dogs, to find the explosives.

For years, bomb detection K-9s have been highly effective at identifying the presence of explosives, but here's the catch: the package had to be stationary. A vapor wake dog's target is a bomber who is moving.

Moving targets killed 184 people in Madrid in 2004 and more than 50 people during the coordinated attacks in London in 2005. But it was the attempted airplane bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, the so-called "underwear bomber" - that prompted the change of tactics.

"With the K-9 program, the training was always nose down, looking at articles, suitcases, abandoned backpacks, but the recognition is that people carry bombs and they're moving targets," explained Mike Downing, LAPD's chief of counter terrorism.

So security professionals turned to the veterinary college at Auburn University, where vapor wake dogs are put through a rigorous 6-month regimen. The dogs go through obstacle courses until they are comfortable climbing over baggage, searching under counters or picking up a vapor trail and chasing it down.

Auburn's John Pearce says only two or three out of 10 dogs make it per class. How did Izzy do at LAX? To see him and other vapor wake dogs in action, click on the video above for John Miller's full report.

  • John Miller
    John Miller

    John Miller is a senior correspondent for CBS News, with extensive experience in intelligence, law enforcement and journalism, including stints in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI.