Customs and other law enforcement agencies round the world use dogs for detection work.

The traditional working dog for many enforcement agencies is the Alsatian or German shepherd dog. This has a very good reputation for drug detection. But as drug detector dogs are often on show in public areas (such as airport terminals) Customs Services prefer to choose the breeds (dogs) of which people are not frightened. For example, in the UK the Customs doesn’t use Alsatians. Nor do they use rottwellers as these dogs are considered aggressive. Mainly Retrievers, Labradors, Collies, Spaniels are used for drug detection work.

The basis for the training is the dog’s natural instinct to hunt and retrieve and its desire to please its handler. Initially the dogs are encouraged to retrieve various items (training aids) containing samples.

The motivation or «reward» is the chance to play as well as praise and affection from their handler. The handlers are trained with the dog thus making a team which remains together until one or the other leaves detection work.

The handlers are trained to interpret the dog’s behaviour or indications when they are confronted with the presence of drugs. Each dog behaves differently and different signals or indications are given according to circumstances.

If the handler fails to interpret these signals or indications there will be little success. It is generally accepted that success with drug detector dogs is due to teamwork and handler interpretation.

Dogs can be trained:

    • to detect drugs (cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamine and their derivates);
    • to detect firearms, ammunition, and explosives;
    • to work among passengers;
    • to work in all types of customs environment except public areas.

To the dog, finding drugs is fun. This is reflected in the dog’s behaviour: it is highly active at work, and enjoys the handler’s reward or praise when it makes a find, but the dog is not allowed to feel that it is playing. To make a clear distinction between work and play, the working dog wears a special harness. When the handler puts the harness on the dog, the animal knows it is on duty.

Dogs can be used to search passengers, baggage, cargo, private and commercial vehicles, vessels and aircraft.

Private cars. Normally the occupants will be out of their vehicle if the dog is to be used. The doors and windows will be closed. The dog is then taken around the outside of the car paying particular attention to the fuel tank, spare wheel and wheel arches; it is then used in the luggage boot before going inside the car.

Commercial vehicles. Three elements are checked here:

— the driver’s cab and his baggage (if any);

— the contents of the vehicle; and

— the vehicle itself.

Vessels. Drug detector dogs are often used during the search. Many places on board a vessel are difficult and noisy for the dog to work in but they are trained to for these conditions.

Search of baggage. Bags are usually screened in front of the passengers but sometimes it happens behind the scenes not to alert potential smugglers.

People. Dogs are not allowed to sniff people, оr even get too close to passengers. But this doesn’t mean that dogs cannot be used for drug concealments on the body. At airports and ferry ports passengers are asked to sit in a holding lounge in a line of chairs opposite their hand baggage. The dog then checks the bags. The passengers are then asked to stand and move to their bags, and sometimes the dog checks the seats they have just left.

No piece of equipment has yet been invented that can replace the dog. Some experimental models have been tried but found to be far inferior to the canine nose. A drug detector dog can search up to fifty parcels in fifteen or twenty minutes as the dog’s sense of smell is one million times better than the man’s.

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