Our detector dogs
This page describes the life, work and training of the UK Border Agency's detector dogs.
Detector dogs, also known as 'sniffer dogs', have been helping to protect the UK's border against smugglers since 1978. Initially they were used solely to detect drugs, but since then we have developed our understanding of what they can do and how to get the best results from them.
Today we have 67 operational dogs based around the UK. They are deployed at passenger and freight entry points at airports, sea ports, international rail stations and postal depots.
Dogs have a very acute sense of smell. Our dogs have been trained to search for concealed drugs, tobacco, cash, animal-based products and firearms, as well as people. Having detected a trained scent, they can pinpoint the exact location of the scent's source by sitting and staring (known as passive indication).
Highly adaptable and trained in all areas of our working environment, our dogs can quickly search large consignments of freight and get into hard-to-reach places - and their unassuming, friendly nature allows them to quietly mingle among travellers without causing unnecessary annoyance.
The dogs work hard all day, but to them it's just a game of hide and seek. When they find a scent, they are rewarded by their handler through play, usually with a tennis ball.
A detector dog begins its training at an early age, usually when it is about 1 year old. Gun dog breeds such as labradors and springer spaniels are the first choice, mainly because of their enthusiasm and natural ability to retrieve. Potential dogs come from a variety of sources: the police, rescue centres, other established contacts and the public.
Some dog teams are trained in-house by a regional dog inspector, but many are trained by the Metropolitan Police at its training school in Kent. During an intensive 8-week course, the dogs learn how to recognise a specific scent - usually drugs. They then train for a further 5 weeks at their future place of work, where they are trained to detect more scents.
All our dogs live in kennels within or close to their working environment. When it is time for work, they are transported in purpose-built vans that act as mobile kennels.
Typically, a dog will work for about 8 years. When it retires, its handler has the first option of taking it home or finding it a suitable good home.