The Most Effective Detection Technology

The Most Effective Detection Technology

Universities nationwide are using Auburn-created Vapor Wake Technology to keep campuses safer

Michigan State University and Notre Dame are fierce competitors, but off the field, they are among university police departments nationwide who join forces by employing specially trained Vapor Wake K-9s with one goal: keeping campuses safe.

Along with Auburn University, whose faculty created the patented Vapor Wake technology, California State University Northridge (CSUN) and others have purchased canines or used this advanced canine detection on campuses.


Vapor Wake detection is a method of training and employing dogs for the detection of body-worn and hand-carried explosives. Developed and patented by Auburn University, Vapor Wake dogs are specially trained to continuously sample the air for an explosive target, then follow it to its source in real time, while the target is in motion.

While the dogs are commonly used at Amtrak stations, professional sports stadiums and in other crowded venues, Michigan State and Notre Dame are among a handful of universities which have purchased Vapor Wake canines to keep the public safe.

“Vapor Wake dogs are ideal for security in large event venue scenarios,” said Dr. Paul Waggoner, co-director of Canine Performance Sciences, a division of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Auburn’s excited to know other universities are adopting Vapor Wake technology. It broadens the application and extends collaboration and the science behind the detection.”

Waggoner, a canine behavioral scientist, says dogs, “represent the most capable and effective technology for the detection of most hazardous materials, particularly explosives.

“No instrumentation has been developed that is as capable as the dog, and certainly not as flexible as the dog, in terms of circumstances under which it can be used and its ability to detect an odor at very low concentration, and then, most importantly, track that odor to its source.”

Waggoner stresses that these dogs remain the most effective technology for detecting threats.


Waggoner, who is one of the creators of the Vapor Wake technology, said researchers and scientists were “presented the problem of how to better protect areas from hand carried and body-worn explosives.”

“We approached it by developing a canine detection technology solution (and) understanding the human thermal and aerodynamic wake that is emitted from a person,” Waggoner said. “Whether you’re carrying a backpack or it is attached to your body, as you move forward, you leave a wake of odor, including the odor of the explosive, behind you. The technology we developed has a dog sampling the wake and detecting explosives and tracking that explosives to its source.”

Auburn University patented the technology, one of the first ever of canine detection methodology, and licensed the technology to a private company, VWK9, to transfer the technology into a user community.

In addition to handling the purchase of vapor wake dogs, VWK9 conducts the operational detection dog training and handler training, as well as provide Vapor Wake K9 Team services to large events, such as concerts and sporting events.

“Fans feel safer," said Paul Hammond, president of VWK9. "They see our non-obtrusive Labradors screening all that enter the event and often comment on how well the dogs are preforming and how much safer they feel by their presence.”

The VW dog is a high level detection dog. Auburn’s CPS program includes a research breeding program for which the Vapor Wake capable dog is the standard (or target) to which they strive to achieve: currently, about 60 percent of the dogs CPS produces are capable of Vapor Wake methodology.

“By contrast, in the general population, only one in about 100 dogs bred and trained for general detection dog tasks, could be capable of performing vapor wake canine,” Waggoner added. “CPS is recognized worldwide for the development canine detection technology; and the program is unique in that it brings together science and application in the development of new technology and in understanding how dogs perform detection work.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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