TSA Opts For Dogs With Floppy Ears

Reducing passenger fear and anxiety a priority
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2018, Updated January 2019
Doc is a Labrador, former Marine who works for the TSA at Chicago O’Hare Airport. (Image courtesy of U.S. Transportation Security Administration)

Doc is a Labrador, former Marine who works for the TSA at Chicago O’Hare Airport. (Image courtesy of U.S. Transportation Security Administration)

If you’ve ever felt as though the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at the airport don’t care at all about how you feel while being screened, you are not alone, but you might be wrong. The evidence for that assertion is that the TSA is making one particular change with the goal of making the experience better for travelers.

In a move aimed at reducing passenger fear and anxiety while going through security checks, they plan to use more dogs with floppy ears and fewer with pointy ears. They want to lower the stress levels of passengers and they don’t want people to feel afraid. They especially want to make sure that they are not frightening children.

TSA currently trains a number of breeds for detection work. Five of them have floppy ears: Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas and Golden Retrievers. The other two have pointy ears: German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. As dogs retire, administrators are consciously replacing those dogs with individuals who are sporting less intimidating ears. Over three-fourths of the hundreds of dogs working in airports have floppy ears, and that percentage will soon be even higher.

A recent article in the Washington Post explained TSA’s thinking on the matter:

“We find the passenger acceptance of floppy-ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner during a recent tour at Washington Dulles International Airport. “Doesn’t scare children.”

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.

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