Questions and Answers About The US Customs Dogs

Quite a few people have asked me about Drug Detection dogs. So I decided to post this Question & Answer Article regarding the dogs used by the U.S. Customs Service.  (And no… they don’t get the dogs addicted to the drugs in order to teach them to find drugs).


How long has the Customs Service been using dogs to search for narcotics and dangerous drugs?

Detector dogs were introduced on a wide scale in September 1970 as part of a major effort to interdict narcotics being smuggled through major air/sea and land border ports.

How are detector dogs used?

Teams consisting of a dog and officer are used to screen arriving aircraft, cargo, baggage, mail, ships, vehicles, and passengers.

What kinds of dogs are used for this work?

Customs uses a wide variety of dogs including, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German Shepherd, Brittany spaniels, German short-hair pointers, and mixed breeds. Dogs used by Customs can be of either sex and must be between 1 and 3 years of age.

How does Customs obtain its dogs?

Dogs that are selected for training are obtained from animal shelters and rescue leagues, primarily in the eastern and Midwestern part of the United States. Many of these dogs are unadoptable and would have to be destroyed. Dogs, meeting the entrance qualifications, are also taken as donations from private owners.

Where are the dogs trained?

All Customs dogs are trained at the Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia, approximately 70 miles west of Washington, D.C.

What are the dogs taught to find?

The dogs are taught to detect concealed narcotics, such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, and other dangerous drugs. Some dogs are even taught to detect currency. The officers are instructed in Customs law, firearms, and reading the “alert” of their dogs to the areas where narcotics are hidden. The dogs and officers are trained by Customs Canine Enforcement Officers with professional experience in this field.

What is the typical workday for a canine enforcement team?

Canine enforcement teams work a full 8-hour day. Teams assigned to airports and seaports alternate between examining aircraft, vessels, baggage, cargo, and mail, Teams stationed at land border crossings devote their time to examining vehicles and merchandise entering the United States.

How do dogs compare with people in examining vehicles, cargo, or mail?

At border ports a dog can examine a vehicle in 5 to 6 minutes. Even a cursory search by a Customs inspector would require at least 20 minutes. Dogs can check packages in a fraction of the time needed by Customs mail examiners. A canine team can process 400 to 500 packages in about 30 minutes.

How many years does Customs keep dogs on the job? What happens after they retire?

Customs employs dogs as long as they can successfully perform and meet workload requirements. Upon retirement, the dogs are usually adopted by their handlers or a good home is found for the animal.

Can a civilian law enforcement agency acquire detector dog training from Customs?

Yes, on a limited basis. For information on costs, etc. contact the Canine Enforcement Training Center at (540) 635-7104 or write to U.S. Customs Service, Canine Enforcement Training Center, 828 Harmony Hollow Road, Front Royal, Virginia, 22630.

How successful are the dogs?

From October 1996 through September 1997, U.S. Customs Canine Enforcement Teams were involved in over 9,200 narcotic or currency related seizures. The street value of the narcotics uncovered by the canines exceeded $3.1 billion. The dogs detected approximately 417,762 pounds of marijuana, 888 pounds of hashish, 48,238 pounds of cocaine, 326 pounds of heroin, 335 pounds of hash oil, 213 pounds of opium, 303,380 drugs (pills, capsules, etc.), and $12,021,142 in currency.

What is the case history of a detector dog?

One of the recent “alerts” by a canine named, “Taylor” 2C-18, resulted in the discovery of 43 pounds of heroin inside the gas tank of a vehicle arriving at the Port of San Ysidro, California. In another recent discovery, a canine named “Pepper” 2C-13, at the Port of Newark, New Jersey, indicated to inspectors that the roof of a sea container need a closer look. The roof was found to contain over 1,000 pounds of cocaine.

1 thought on “Questions and Answers About The US Customs Dogs”

  1. Katherine Mason

    My husband and I are interested in possibly adopting a drop out dog from your program. If this is an option, please contact me and let me know the procedures. We are more than willing to be on a waiting list. We live in Bowie, MD and our Sheltie passed away about 4 months ago. We heard that there are some dogs available occasionally and would like some information. Thanks in advance.

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