On dogs

When we recall classic movies of the 1970s I know that everyone immediately thinks of … “The Doberman Gang.” What, you thought I was going to say “Star Wars?” For shame. No, in this gem of American cinematography we have a pack of dogs being trained to rob a bank (and later trained to rip off a corrupt politician in “The Amazing Dobermans” before finally turning away from their lives of crime and working for The Man in “The Daring Dobermans;” Spielberg ain’t the only one who can do sequels poorly). I can barely remember watching this and at the time thinking “What a cool idea!” And I still think it’s a cool idea, although not a particularly practical one. In reality, the dogs sans handler would presumably be confused by the inevitable chaos, start biting people, and get shot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like dogs. I *love* dogs. I’m a dog person. But, really, dogs can only go so far. We should not task the criminal utility of dogs too much.

Which is why I am much more worried about dog assassins.

Every now and again there are wonderful, awful ideas (cf. The Grinch) and I open my newspaper in the morning and am happy that said ideas have not made their way into reality yet. For example, the destruction of the American cattle industry by hoof-and-mouth disease. Every day that goes by without that happening is a gift. But a slightly less-awful (although not more wonderful) idea that has again gone whistling past the graveyard is blowing up a public official with a dog.

All the components for dog-as-mobile-bomb are already there, just as all the components for airplane-as-really-big-mobile-bomb were. We have (checklist) … dog. Geared by tens of thousands of years of evolution and selective breeding to be a hunk of intelligent, adaptive, obedient flesh. Our own dog is a bit of an idiot, and did not do all that well when we took a training class with her. However, our instructor, the late Lee Mannix, was a genius with animals. Indeed, I think I learned from Lee that we were much more stupid than she was when it came to training. I also learned from Lee that you can pretty much train a dog to do anything. That said, I don’t want to push it too far, since really all the dog has to be is a semi-intelligent delivery vehicle for the bomb. Next on the list, shock collar. These are pretty nifty little devices, and they actually work. Next, a GPS device. I have fooled around with Geocaching, and it always amazes me that there really is a God in the Sky who tells me where I am and where to go.

Now, take GPS device. Modify with a teeny adapter circuit that essentially provides a shock to different positions on the collar (which will also have to be modified), depending on the relative relation of the dog to its target. This circuit and collar modifications are left as an exercise to the reader, although to prove my own morbid conjectures I did come up with a design that may still be around here somewhere. Spend time training dog to understand that the shock collar tells it where to go. Reward dog for reaching target. Repeat with as many dogs as necessary (for a high value target multiple dogs may be recommended).

Load cute doggie pack up with C4 or other popular explosive. Wire C4 to GPS (again, adapter circuit may be necessary), or else have a cell phone interface if direct observation of target is more reliable. Then: release the hounds, as Mr. Burns likes to say. Many folks smile at cute doggie with cute doggie pack. Even security officials may smile. Preferably, security officials will shoot the doggie. But if there are many doggies, and if security officials are not feeling lucky that day, dog will reach approximate location (commercial GPS is good but not great) and … sadly will not get its reward this time.

The biodefense relevance, for what it’s worth, is this: first, we often neglect the obvious, just as we did on 9/11. Second, animals are biology, too. While we sometimes get all hepped up about molecular circuits, a snoring odor-tracking machine is slumbering at my feet. Third, animals are game-changers, as not only Jared Diamond but several DARPA programs can attest to.


- originally posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010