HeroDOGs join the APOPO animal team

Today is International Dog Day.

APOPO, the global non-profit famed for training African giant pouched rats to detect landmines, has further expanded its existing methods with the inclusion of technical survey dogs. We’ve chosen today - International Dog Day 2020 to announce this exciting new initiative!

The Landmine Problem

Over 60 million people living in 59 countries from Angola to Cambodia, do so in daily fear of landmines and other remnants of past conflict. Landmines remain as painful and dangerous reminders of the past, continuing to threaten personal safety, economic development and food security. Agricultural land is left unsafe to farm and grazing livestock is dangerous. Trade routes remain closed, cutting off communities and denying families displaced by war the chance to return home safely. Yet detecting these weapons is very tedious and therefore expensive while global funding is declining.

How APOPO helps

Clearing minefields creates safe ground on which homes can be built and land can be cultivated. It gives new beginnings and hope to people living at risk in vulnerable communities. By removing landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW), APOPO lays the foundation for recovery and restoring livelihoods.

Using an integrated approach of survey, vegetation-cutting machines, human deminers with metal detectors and mine detection rats, APOPO and partners have been releasing safe land quickly so that people can get their lives back on track.

Technical Survey Dogs

With over 20 years of experience in research, training and successful operational use of mine detection rats, APOPO is uniquely positioned to train technical survey dogs. The APOPO dog training center is based in Cambodia and employs respected and experienced dog training experts with an extensive knowledge of land release methods and international as well as national demining authority standards. Our trainers carefully select Belgian Malinois puppies for training - this breed sits within the German shepherd family with a smaller build, an excellent nose and a keen intellect.

How does it work?

Prior to landmine clearance, areas need to first be surveyed. Traditional survey methods include the use of metal detectors, that require ground preparation and vegetation cutting. This makes the survey slow and expensive.

APOPO uses special Technical Survey dogs (a.k.a. HeroDOGs) who can survey deep into an area without the need to prepare the ground or cut any vegetation. The dogs are trained to use their sense of smell to search through the undergrowth and circumvent obstacles, ignoring scrap metal and indicating when they find the smell of explosives.

The dogs are equipped with the Swiss developed SMART system - a backpack with Global Positioning System (GPS), a speaker and a video camera, that shows and records the dog’s search pattern and location. This allows the handler to instruct the dog through verbal command. When the dog finds an explosive item, the dogs are trained to sit down at a distance of at least one meter and wait patiently for their handler’s next command. This distance keeps the dogs safely out of harm’s way. The system also has the advantage of creating a GPS validated search record, an improvement over existing pen and paper search documentation procedures.

“A single Technical Survey Dogs can effectively survey an area of up to 4000 m2 per day across challenging terrain with high levels of vegetation. Sniffing out the chemical compounds of explosive found in landmines they ignore scrap metal making them much faster at surveying hazardous areas than metal detectors.”  

Michael Heiman, Program Manager for APOPO Mine Action Cambodia

A team of HeroDOGs surveys an area on a minefield twice as fast as traditional methods. On top of that the system generates maps with the survey progress and all the findings, which allows for better evidence-based decision-making on which areas will be released and which need to be cleared.

HeroDOGs and HeroRATs play complementary roles. Technical Survey dogs are used prior to clearance, together with the initial historical and geographical surveys that have been carried out to assess the probability of landmines. Detection rats are excellent for clearance of wide mine contaminated areas that have shown evidence of contamination.

The use of HeroDOGs in technical survey will pave the way for even more effective use of APOPO’s HeroRATs combining the dog’s surveying speed and the rat’s accuracy of detection. The involvement of such amazing animal expertise will hugely reduce the time needed to clear a minefield and deliver safe land back to impacted communities.

APOPO joined the global “Landmine Free 2025” coalition making us part of the global response to rally support for landmine clearance and ensure people affected by landmines are not forgotten. This campaign is a call to action to work together to do more, and faster.


The Hero Treatment

APOPO’s detection animals are highly valuable assets, making animal welfare and safety a top priority. Our HeroDOGs and HeroRATs are well cared for, receive an excellent diet, regular exercise, stimulation and enrichment and individualized attention from expert handlers.          

You can support APOPO's HeroDOGs by (symbolically) adopting one!

For more info, logos and images contact lily.shallom@apopo.org.


APOPO is most grateful to donors and partners who are instrumental to the success of our Technical Survey Dogs.

The SMART mine detection dog system was developed by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and Digger DTR with the initial funding coming from the Swiss foundation World Without Mines. APOPO is successfully running operational trials in Cambodia in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), which are financially supported by the City of Geneva and the GICHD.