92 Hero Rats & Land Mines

Based on research by Al Poling, et al. 2010, written by Katie Kavanaugh, MS, BCBA and Josh Pritchard, Ph.D..

What do Paul McCartney, rats, and a behavior analyst named Al Poling, all have in common? They all care about preventing further tragedy due to landmines, which according to the United Nations, kill or maim nearly 25,000 people each year.

Dr. Poling uses the principles of behavioral science to teach rats to sniff out land mines in Mozambique. He trained rats using clicker training, often used to train dogs. When an audible click repeatedly comes right before the presentation of food, the rat responds or is “conditioned” to the click sound as a reinforcer.  The trainer then teaches the rats to discriminate between the odors of TNT that is the common explosive in landmines by clicking only just before the TNT smell is presented, not before other scents, like dirt and diesel fuel.

Rats are beneficial because they don’t weigh enough to detonate the landmines. They are sent across an area and signal to the trainer when they smell a landmine. The landmine is disabled and removed, saving limbs or lives of anyone who might step on the mine accidentally.

Behavioral science can restore lands and reduce suffering and continual anger at those who placed mines in long ago wars!


Poling, A., Weetjens, B. J., Cox, C., Beyene, N., Bach, H. & Sully, A. (2010). Teaching giant African pouched rats to find landmines: Operant conditioning with real consequences, Behavior Analysis in Practice, 3, 19-25.

Walsh, N. E. & Walsh, W. S. (2003). Rehabilitation of landmine victims-the ultimate challenge, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 81(9), 665-670.  

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