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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Holm, a military-working-dog handler, watches Zasko for signals during a patrol of western Baghdad, on Aug 2, 2007. Zasko, a Belgian Malinois, helps coalition forces locate explosives and ammunition using the weapons’ scents as an indicator. U.S. Army photo by Spc. L.B. Edgar

U.S. Military Working Dog Zasko

Working Dog Sniffs Out Homemade Explosives

By Spc. L.B. Edgar,
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

BAGHDAD, Aug. 8, 2007 —   Swiftly traversing a building’s exterior, Zasko thoroughly scanned each crack, crevice and corner. Drawn to a scent in the air near a clump of weeds, he paced back and forth, uncertain if the smell emanated from the weeds or if it was something else.

Zasko, a military working dog trained in the detection of explosives, had identified a stash of explosive powder hidden inside a propane tank. The tank was tucked under some weeds inside an abandoned building, used by insurgents to stage attacks against coalition forces.
 
“The HME (homemade explosive) was actually something he had never seen before, so we tried to familiarize him with it,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Holm, Zasko’s handler. “Once we familiarized him with it, we took him into the back yard. We came around the corner and he started pulling toward a large pile of weeds.”
 
Though Zasko, a Belgian Malinois, did not sit down in front of the weeds, which is how he signals a find, he was interested enough for Holm to notice.

“He started bracketing, which is where he goes side to side, sniffing like he has an interest in something. He did not go to a final response, but he showed enough change that I had someone check it out,” Holm explained.
 
“Sure enough, that’s where the HME was,” said the native of Malbern, Ark. Following the discovery, Zasko received the two things he wants most: Kong, a large rubber toy attached to a rope for tug-of-war play, and the praise of his master, called “dad” by the dog-handling community, Holm said.

“He could care less about his toy some days. He just wants dad to pet and play with him. He’s a very affectionate dog,” said the 26-year old of his 7-year-old partner.

For Zasko the whole search is a big game that ends with a toy and dad’s affection. Working dogs are conditioned on

Photo - See caption below.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Holm, a military working dog handler, plays tug of war with Zasko, after his canine companion identified homemade explosive materials hidden outside an abandoned building during a patrol of western Baghdad supporting Company C, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division on Aug. 2, 2007. Zasko treats the searches as a means of gaining Holm’s affection and play time with a favorite toy. U.S. Army photo by Spc. L.B. Edgar
1
what to look for and when they find it, they are allowed to play with their toys and to receive positive reinforcement from their handlers. Constant training creates a routine for the canine’s behavior and builds a rapport between the dog and his handler, said Holm, who has been a military dog handler for five years.

Though Zasko is trained to detect 11 odors, including Nitroglycerin, P4, one type of C4, standard mortars, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and various casings, he was never formally trained to recognize homemade explosives. So Holm was pleased when Zasko, a combat veteran with four deployments under his leash, made the find.

However, Holm puts nothing past his latest canine partner.
           
“He’s a very disciplined dog,” Holm said of his eighth canine comrade. “He’s one of the best dogs I’ve ever had.”

Last Updated:
08/08/2007, Eastern Daylight Time
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