The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Police Department recently added a new member to their team: Bella the bomb dog.
Bella is a two-year-old Belgian Malinois from Police Dogs Centre Holland B.V., a Netherlands-based company focused on training and selling police dogs to entities around the world, according to the company’s website.
Bella is replacing the previous bomb dog, Pepper, due to age-related factors that contributed to Pepper’s decreasing performance. However, according to Sgt. Mike LaSalle of ULPD, Pepper’s energy still resides in him, and he’s just ready to retire.
“They start losing their athleticism,” LaSalle said. “They never seem to lose the enthusiasm.”
For approximately three months, LaSalle has been working with Bella to prepare her for the upcoming semester when more sports events and activities will be held. ULPD utilizes their own form of training which unlocks a police dog’s prey drive instinct that motivates them to go after an object or use hunting-like capabilities to fulfill their task.
LaSalle started using a small piece of an odorless polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe to build Bella’s interest to play with it. After playing with it for some time, Bella matured and developed a strong enough desire for the pipe, which confirmed that she was ready to move on to the next stage involving real explosive material.
By hiding a small amount of an explosive component in a box, LaSalle began the odor imprinting process with Bella. He showed Bella the pipe while she was detained with a leash and dropped the pipe in the box with the explosive component. Once she’s released, she goes after the desired toy.
“She associates her toy with the odor that she’s being imprinted with,” LaSalle said.
From then, they moved on to different places around campus that could pose potential threats ranging from buildings to cars. However, Bella had some trouble with adjusting to this stage of the training.
“The biggest issues that we have with young dogs are environmental issues,” LaSalle said.
According to LaSalle, Bella had issues with elevators, so he used positive reinforcement to make it easier for her. LaSalle would press the elevator button and once the elevator opened up, he would throw Bella’s toy in, so she would connect elevators with getting a reward.
“The biggest thing is finding ways to be positive in the training instead of reprimanded,” LaSalle said.
With the overall objective of keeping the campus safe, LaSalle takes Bella for campus-wide walks daily. Whether it’s a stand-alone backpack or a suspicious package, Bella utilizes her want for her toy to make sure that there are no possible explosives.
They usually walk about five miles throughout different parts of the university inside and outside.
ULPD decided to let Bella live with LaSalle to surround her with a low-stress environment whenever she was off duty.
ULPD’s partnering agencies such as the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office also use Bella in neighboring situations involving bomb threats. Other educational institutions around Lafayette are also allowed to use her in emergencies.
“Using the bomb dog instead of personnel to do a search is safer for us,” LaSalle said. “It’s faster, and it’s more effective.”