NAPA, Calif. (KTVU) - Ever since the terror attacks of 9-11 the Coast Guard has stepped up its activity to protect San Francisco Bay.
1,445 container ships docked at the port of Oakland last year, making it the fifth busiest sea port in the U.S.
While customs agents inspect cargo, the Coast Guard is looking for something more serious. And that's why they rely on specially trained bomb-sniffing dogs.
"These are explosive detection K-9s so we want to have the ability to handle any kind of threat we encounter offshore and away from the port environment," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Chris Hartman.
While the dogs are highly trained, they're not used to flying, especially in a helicopter.
Three K-9's worked with a CHP chopper at the Napa airport recently, including 18 month old Ricky, a Belgian Malinois who's never been hoisted into a chopper before.
Petty Officer Jordan Brosowski is Ricky's human partner.
"It just makes it that much more difficult to complete the hoist when you have a 60 pound dog that's freaking out."
The idea is to get Ricky and the other K-9's used to the wind and noise from a chopper so they can safely be hoisted and sent to a ship outside the Golden Gate.
If a ship is carrying explosives, the goal is to keep the danger at sea instead of allowing a potential terrorist attack to happen under a bridge or in port.
Ricky is fitted with goggles and ear protection and attached to the steel cable that will carry him and his human companion 75 feet into the air.
CHP crewman Ben Schmidt is the hoist operator. He stands on the chopper's skid and keeps a close eye on both human and dog to make sure nothing goes wrong.
"I'm looking at the dog. Make sure everything's good. If I see something I don't like we'll just abort the mission."
Ricky's first hoist goes well... with Jordan Brosowoski gently stroking him on the way up.
"I was petting his back half and his neck and his face was right next to my face and I was just telling him good boy and letting him know everything was going to be OK."
Perhaps the trickiest part is getting the animal over the chopper's skid where a leg can get tangled or where the dog might lash out.
"Some dogs are very aggressive and they might try to bite my leg for example," Schmidt told KTVU. "You can see on the hoist the dog's mouth is about an inch from my leg."
But that didn't happen.
All three dogs passed their check rides with flying colors.
Brosowski says his wife wanted him to call after the flight to make sure everything was OK, not necessarily with him but the dog.
"She's more worried about Ricky. I've done stuff like this for years and years, but this was his first time. So she was definitely more worried about him," said Brosowski.
Ricky and the other dogs will continue their training every six months, making sure the ships that come into the bay are safe to do so.