Nightly News | April 09, 2011
>>> finally tonight, front line canines. we see them at airports and in mass transit systems. they defend the country. and as you'll see, these dogs get a very early start. nbc's tom costello explains.
>> reporter: hard to imagine these four-legged balls of fur so curious, playful and into absolutely everything will one day be using those noses for the tsa. sniffing for explosives. scott thomas runs the breeding program . what makes a puppy, what makes a dog really good. hi, sweetie. really good at doing his job.
>> a dog that's environmentally bold, which is a dog that can go to any new environment and act like he's lived there his whole life. the other thing is their desire to find their favorite toy.
>> it looks like puppy play, but at lackland air force base near san antonio , the tsa has set up a sort of boot camp for dogs. and there is something else that makes this special.
>> this right here is dolan . he was number 500.
>> every dog is named after one of the 3,000 people who died on 9/11. dolan 's name is tattooed right inside his ear.
>> this is just such an honor. i can't even tell you what an honor for me.
>> reporter: at the pentagon's 9/11 memorial, 184 benches stand as tribute to those who died here that day. one of them is named after lisa dolan 's husband, navy captain bob dolan .
>> i have a very special connection with dogs. so it really filled my heart. i teared up.
>> reporter: for the next year, little dolan will live with a foster family in san antonio . then return to the tsa for intense training in sniffing out tiny traces of explosives in airport lounges, cargo holds, train stations and passenger planes. then alert his handler.
>> some dogs increase their pace. some slow their pace. the increase in sniffing behavior.
>> reporter: it takes more than a year for a dog and handler to learn to work as a team. and there's constant turnover. because dogs generally retire when they are 8 years old, the tsa has to train 300 dogs each year to both maintain and grow the program. and it turns out dolan represents something very special to the dolans. captain dolan started his navy career in bomb detection. on the "today" show, little dolan met lisa and becka dolan .
>> oh, it seems like this puppy dolan has kind of completed a circle for my family.
>> reporter: tom costello, nbc news, san antonio .