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The TSA Is Switching To Floppy-Eared Airport Dogs To Avoid Scaring Kids

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided to replace its pointy-eared dogs with floppy-eared ones. Apparently, pointy-eared dogs intimidate travelers, especially children.

"We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA ... to use floppy ear dogs," TSA Administrator David Pekoske says. "We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children."

According to statistics, 80 percent of the 1,200 TSA canines in the US have floppy ears, compared to 20 percent that have pointy ears. The TSA has the second-highest number of dogs working for the agency of any federal administration. In 2019, dogs will be retired daily from the agency as a result of the administration’s aging population. They will slowly be replaced with floppy-eared dogs, which are considered sporting or hunting breeds.

In the past year, 80 percent of TSA canines acquired from breeders were sporting dogs. Christopher Shelton, branch manager of the TSA canine training center in San Antonio, Texas, says the TSA has begun purchasing more "sporting" dogs because breeders are increasingly raising these dogs. The TSA employs five sporting breeds: Labrador Retrievers, Vizslas, German Short-haired Pointers, Wirehaired Pointers and Golden Retrievers. It also relies upon two breeds of pointy-eared or working dogs, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinoises.

Dogs must meet three criteria in order to work for the TSA. They must be healthy, able and willing to detect certain odors, and socialized to interact with people. Shelton says that pointy-eared dogs will not be completely blacklisted since assessing the attributes of a dog is the agency’s greatest priority.

The decision to reduce the numbers of pointy-eared dogs was an informal internal decision, according to TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. There has been no official notification of the change. One-third of the TSA’s 1,200 dogs actively screen passengers at airport checkpoints. The other two-thirds work at airports sniffing out explosives and often collaborate with local law enforcement agencies.

"If there’s a bomb scare somewhere else in that town, they’ll pull that dog. We train them at our expense. We provide the dogs," Shelton says.

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The cost of training a dog and its human partner ranges from $26,000 to $42,000. The TSA currently works with 100 local law enforcement agencies around the country. Although the new floppy-eared dogs are intended to appear less intimidating to travelers, Shelton and Farbstein say passengers should not attempt to interact with the dogs while they’re working. The canines’ human partners, however, will carry cards with each dog’s details to hand out to curious travelers.

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