The Transportation Security Administration’s 1,100 dogs assigned to the nation’s airports are trained in Texas and some of them are headed to the Super Bowl to protect people next weekend.
The dogs are trained at Joint Base San Antonio – also known as Lackland Air Force Base – in a building that resembles an airport terminal.
“It sounds crazy saying it but you have to put yourself in a dog's mind,” manager Zeb Polasek said. “It's a game to them. It's hide and seek to them."
In one exercise witnessed by NBC 5, Basty, a 2-year-old Labrador Retriever, walks through a number of suitcases on the floor.
One of them has real explosives in it.
The trainer doesn't give any hints.
But Basty's nose knows.
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And he simply sits at the right one.
“Good boy, Basty,” the handler said.
Jennifer Solis already works at DFW International Airport but she's here at the training center getting a new dog, Zeta.
"They like coming to work,” Solis said. “You cannot be at home because they will drive you crazy. They have the drive to naturally come in and work. This is their playground every day."
The TSA uses seven breeds of dogs. Some come from Europe. They're usually about two years old when they are hired on.
Before they ever step a paw in a real airport, they're trained here for eight weeks.
Then they meet their handlers and they both get 16 more weeks of intense instruction.
"Every dog is different,” Polasek said. “Every student is different. So for an employee down here, the pace changes constantly."
The training is as real as they can make it.
TSA even hires people to act like passengers to simulate an airport terminal.
One of them is carrying real explosives, provided to TSA by the FBI.
The dog clearly reacted by sitting down when that man in the blue cap walks by.
Now some of the canines trained here are headed to the Super Bowl where they'll go to work at SoFi Stadium, a potential high-profile target for a terrorist.
"Much like any large airport, you have passengers traveling with their spouses, their children, and you want to make sure they're safe. That's our No. 1 priority,” Polasek said. “That's why I come to work every day. That's why my staff raises their right hand to protect the national public."
Once on the job, the dogs must pass regular tests to make sure they're up on their game.
TSA has nearly 1,100 dogs deployed at airports nationwide.
They work as long as 10 years before retiring.