by Janet Abbott Fast
Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is the Canine Enforcement
Training Center (CETC), U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department
of Homeland Security. Red roofed white buildings appear by the side of
the road, while a nearby stream bubbles downhill. Diana Lieber, the class
instructor, awaits outside the gate in one of a fleet of white Suburbans,
pulling a ten-dog white trailer. Follow me, she indicates pointing, pulling
out onto the twisting road. Less than a mile up the road she signals a
left turn. We wait for a gate to slide open and begin to climb again, a
my red PT cruiser as a cacophony of barking begins. “Don’t touch any of
the dogs,” Diana instructs. Understood. At last, I meet Colt, who is now
the proud owner of Judd, a nine-year-old retired narcotics detector dog—a
dog I bred. He hands me a small card, with Judd’s picture on the front,
apologizing for not having a more recent card. Later, I note the back of
the card shows Judd’s age as four and reads, “Largest or Most Notable Seizure,
103 pounds of marijuana inside the gas tank of a vehicle.” I am proud!
But I digress.
The voice on the other end of the phone, said, “I’m going to put this dog
down!” “No, you’re not,” I reply. “You’re going to return him and I’ll
refund your money, per our agreement.” Judd is a German Wirehaired
Pointer from Sarah's (Ch Navajo Unexpected) first litter. A man from another
state bought him and several other pups for his buddies. He knew of the
bloodline and Judd's sire, Ch Haar Baron’s Casey JH.
This man is the only person asked to resign from a hunting dog organization.
He started a similar, organization, and was the guru. He never praised
his dogs. One day there was a test to gauge the dog’s natural abilities,
in the field, in water and tracking. Judd performed well, with one exception.
When he had a retrieve, on land or in water, he looked around and brought
the retrieve to anyone but the owner, causing him great embarrassment,
Hence the phone call. Judd, about 14 months, returned to me the next day.
I ran Judd in NAVHDA’s Natural Ability test before he was 16 months and
he prized. Anne, my friend, offered to take him temporarily to socialize
him. Her twin girls adored Judd. One day she told me, “Judd wants to work.”
She heard CETC was looking for dogs. Without my knowledge she took him
to be tested, and he passed with flying colors. They wanted to keep him
that day. Then she realized he was my dog so she called me from Front Royal.
Making a quick decision, I agreed that he could go through school, but
I would not give up ownership, nor would I allow him to be neutered.
I'd planned to attend graduation in May. My son was moving from Austin,
Texas to Pennsylvania. We arranged his move around the date of Judd's graduation,
only to discover the graduation date was incorrect. By then the wheels
were in motion for the move, so I never saw the dog again. Anne’s girls
were also upset, wailing, “We’ll never see Judd again!” I received a graduation
photo and a letter from the CETC. I had been invited to observe the training,
but was working full time and unable to get there. Now seven years later,
I’m spending the day at Front Royal and meeting Judd’s handler, Colt, who
is training a new dog. I've spoken to him once or twice a year. A year
or two ago when I asked him about Judd he said, "I love that dog!". When
he said he wanted to keep Judd upon retirement, I agreed.
On this unusually chilly spring day, we are in the midst of about 100 old
cars. The building has a roof, no sides, and a concrete floor. There are
three double rows of junkers. some with flat tires, faded paint, parked
neatly side-by-side. I get my camera ready and pull on my hooded sweater
and a warm hat. Diana is doing something with string and a tightly wrapped
towel and what I later realize is the training aid wrapped in such a way
that the dogs cannot get to it. Today marijuana and hashish are the drugs
of training. Before training for the ten dogs and five handlers begins,
a couple of dogs need remedial training. The string is to pull the training
aid away from the towel, the dog’s reward, after discovery. The dog is
brought around the car, finds the hidden training aid, Diana snaps the
string upwards, the dog gets the towel, and lots of loud praising, clapping
and shouting erupts. Atta Boy! Good Boy!! Yeah!
handler and dog move into the grass and sunshine while the dog tugs on
the towel and proceeds to rip it to shreds with lots of praise. This is
a good thing and goes on for several minutes. Praise and reward is the
motivation. “I’ll do whatever it takes for the dog to have fun,” Diana
explains. “No shock collars, no ear pinching.” Tarzan likes cardboard so
she places a small cardboard box instead of a towel in the back seat of
another car, near the hidden training aids. In this exercise the dogs are
brought up to the car. Search begins in a specific pattern, at the front
headlight and proceeds around the vehicle. On this day, one or two dogs
smell the drugs from the back door. They jump on the door, scratch and
the handler quickly opens the door for the dog. For the others the handler
opens the front door, the dog jumps in the front seat, then the back seat
If no drugs are found inside, the search proceeds to the trunk. Once the
drug is located, the dog picks up the towel, the handler “praises him off”
and he’s brought out of the car. Always there is a lot of noise, praise,
playing and towel shredding. Tarzan, the last dog on this search, is rewarded
with the cardboard box to shred. Shredded towels are held aloft for Diana
to see how much fun the dogs are having.
is extracted and this time the training aids are hidden in the gas tank
of a red junker. Many pains are taken to protect the dog from the training
aid—drugs—but also to leave space to stuff the towel inside for the reward.
A roll of duct tape is placed over the gas tank. Since these dogs are active
narcotics detector dogs—not passive—they do not search people for drugs—the
dog is expected to jump up and scratch when finding the training aids.
Diana explains that in order for a legal search to take place, there needs
to be an alert from the dog. The dogs must pinpoint the drug and respond
to the source—scratching. Colt tells me that one day Judd began to search
a vehicle and suddenly stopped, locking into a point! When Colt realized
the dog wasn’t going to move, he began to seek the drug, which was in a
compartment hidden in the car’s radiator.
There are five handlers,
each one working with two dogs. At the end of the course the handler chooses
which dog he wants to take back to his or her post. The remaining dog is
sent to a location where a dog is needed. Carlos, Colt, Rhonda, Mingo and
Jesse handle these dogs during the 15 week training program in Diana’s
class. Diana is retired from the U.S. Army Canine Corp, Colt is retired
from U.S. Navy, Carlos is in the U.S. Air Force Active reserve. He was
called back to active duty after 9/11, so he has had several dogs in recent
years. Mingo was a police officer and U.S. Border Patrol Agent; Jesse spent
eight and a half years in the U.S. Navy and was a U.S. Customs Inspector
and Rhonda was a U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector. The dogs, Ricky,
Chilla, Erik and Woody are Belgium Malinois, Darko is a Dutch Shepherd,
Duke is a black Lab, Roscoe a chocolate Lab, and Bojar, Latimer and Tarzan
are German Shepherds. Chilla probably came from Europe, Diana tells me,
because she understands Dutch commands. Eight more weeks of training will
follow once the handlers and dogs return to their posts—in this class all
are working one of the U.S. Mexican borders in Texas or California.
the hill from the 100 car garage, is another similar garage, with about
half as many cars. That is where the dogs train with hard narcotics and
drugs are handled with gloves. Smaller amounts of these drugs are used
as training aids, and they can be more difficult to locate. Training begins
with the different scents on the towels. By the time the dogs begin training
with the harder narcotics they know the routine and reward system. Adding
scents is not difficult. Dogs are never given any drugs. Later this week
the dogs will have two days of evaluation. “Ill behavior marks a good Narcotics
Detector Dog,” Diana tells me. The dog who is always chewing, is destructive,
and has a high drive is a good prospect.
leave the garage and go back down the winding road, to another location.
This time we’re in a building with a baggage conveyor belt setup.The belt
travels in an oval, with a wooden wall down the centerline. The dogs have
been working for several weeks on this search. Diana explains that initially
the dogs are simply brought into the building and they play with the towels.
The play proceeds with the belt moving. Next the towel is thrown onto the
moving conveyor. Luggage is added in the building, then it’s added to the
conveyor. Today the dogs come in the building, one at a time, the belt
is moving, there is luggage, The dogs jump up onto the moving belt and
jump over the luggage, checking for drugs. Diana shouts, “Bag on!” and
a piece of luggage with the training aid and towel is placed on the moving
belt behind the wall. When the dog discovers the suitcase, the scratching
begins. Again a string has been rigged to pull the case open so the dog
can get the towel reward. Massive praise and play ensues. Both hard-sided
and soft-sided pieces are used for each dog, and different suitcases are
used for each dog, so they do not smell the fresh scent of a previous dog.
dogs have their own space in the large white trailer. There is a vent on
every door as well as a ventilation system along the center of the trailer,
with a fan recirculating fresh air. The dog’s name is on its door and stainless
steel water dish, and they are offered water regularly. The trailer has
space for large water coolers, and today there is luggage piled on top.
Diana tells me, “To try to cut down on bloat—we may never end it all—we
feed the dogs twice a day rather than once a day; we hydrate the dogs throughout
the day. When we bring them in from training we give them about two inches
of water in the bottom of their buckets; Then we come back after about
an hour and give them more water if needed—usually not needed if they kept
themselves hydrated enough in the day. We ensure there is no strenuous
activity one hour before feeding. At that point if they are calm and not
over-drinking, we fill their water buckets full. We watch them for a minimum
of half an hour after feeding to ensure there are no signs of bloat.”
of dogs is handled by the team of trainers from CETC, Diana says. “We will
usually go out into the field for about three weeks, in a three state area.”
They take the ten-dog trailers and visit local shelters and veterinarians.
Occasionally CETC buys dogs. Good prospects are Schutzhunds, and Malinois—high
drive, intense dogs, often used in the military. Malinois need to be well
socialized when they are young, Diana tells me. The team evaluates which
dogs are prospects; willingness to retrieve, to go under vehicles, work
on slick floors and in tight places—are characteristics they seek. Once
selected the dog is taken to a local vet, checked for heartworm, given
shots, and spayed or neutered. Once the selection process is completed,
the team returns to the shelters and pick up the dogs, returning to Front
Royal. Diana adds, “Another country will request to train some of their
handlers and/or trainers with CETC. We have a set price and will train
them with dogs we have acquired. They will go through the same training
our officers do. When they graduate, they take the dog they trained with
them. We did this for Australia. We trained several of their handlers and
Since they have a hard time
acquiring suitable dogs for their program, they began a breeding program.
They were successful but have very few good field trial champions to cross
to to expand their genetic pool. They gave us 12 of their dogs in the hopes
that an expanded gene pool could be accomplished from our end.”
CETC instructors may work
a short time with the dogs before the classes begin, but new handlers have
to train an untrained dog, to learn how the dog learns and plays. In class
handlers see problem solving, and remedial training to make it fun for
a dog. They use this knowledge when they get back home. Diana is armed,
but the handlers are not. Training is very physical and handlers can move
more quickly without their guns.
When Judd joined US Customs,
there were about 300 dogs. Today there are 700 dogs in the service. Training
for currency, explosives, and terrorism is being added. (See Fact Sheet).
But narcotics detection, both passive and active, is the primary
use for the dogs. CETC has their own breeding program—I met a littler of
12-week old pups, who will soon go into selected homes for socialization.
They will later return to CETC to be trained for the service, and a high
percentage make the grade. Bitches are bred to dogs who have field titles.
Homes are found for dogs unable to qualify in the program, and there is
a waiting list for them.
the dogs have bonded with their handlers, at retirement they often move
from their kennel environment into the home, as did Judd. Dogs sleep about
12 hours a day, once on the job, so they are kept in US Customs kennels
at the borders. Colt tells me handlers take turns feeding the dogs in the
kennels at his location. While Colt is training a new dog, Judd is staying
with his next door neighbor who has children. He tells me they want to
keep him, they too love him. “As soon as he retired, I put Handsome—aka
Judd—in the front seat of my truck. I belted him in of course,” Colt says,
smiling. “He sits up there so proud. At home I love the way he puts his
head in my lap and gazes up at me with his big brown eyes.”
I know that my quick decision that cold December day seven years ago was
the best one for Haar Baron’s Grizzly aka Judd, now known and loved, as
© 2004 Janet Abbott
Fast All Rights Reserved. Contact Janet Fast at email@example.com
For additional information
about the program see (link to Fact Sheet)
Photos are of various dogs
and handlers in training at CETC.
All photos (except the one
of Judd) are by Janet Abbott Fast © 2004
U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION
CANINE ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM
On March 1, 2003, the U.S.
Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Service,
and part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture merged into the newly created U.S. Customs
and Border Protection (CBP) agency within the Department of Homeland Security.
With that merger the former canine programs were consolidated to a staffing
level of over 1,200 Canine Enforcement Teams, the largest number of working
dog teams of any Federal Law Enforcement Agency. These canine teams are
assigned to over 73 ports of entry and 82 Border Patrol stations throughout
CBP's Canine Enforcement
Program (CEP) has expanded to meet the diverse and demanding challenges
facing our country today. Canine Enforcement Officers use specially trained
detector dogs to combat terrorist threats as well as interdict contraband
and concealed persons at our nation's borders, land ports, seaports, international
airports, and international mail facilities. To meet these threats, the
CEP has developed training courses as well as trained and deployed canine
teams in an array of specialized detection capabilities. This includes:
The canine enforcement program
is responsible for a significant proportion of narcotic seizures made by
Customs and Border Protection at ports of entry, accounting for more than
13,726 narcotic seizures totaling over 1,345,444 pounds of narcotics in
FY 2003. The canine enforcement program was also responsible for seizures
of U.S. currency worth $27.9 million in FY 2003. During FY 2003 the canine
enforcement program was accountable for over 73,382 Quarantine Material
Interceptions of plant products and over 19,188 Quarantine Material Interceptions
of animal products with a combined weight of 7,889 pounds. The U.S. Border
Patrol canine enforcement teams found 32,525 concealed humans and seized
over 722,000 pounds of narcotics in FY 2003.
Chemical Detector Dogs - These
dogs are trained to detect odors used in weapons of mass destruction.
Explosive Detector Dogs - These
dogs are trained to detect explosive odors.
Currency Detector Dogs - Currency
teams are trained to detect the odor of U.S. Currency.
Agriculture Detector Dogs -
These canines can detect fruits, vegetables, meats or other prohibited
items that may carry animal, pests, or plant diseases which could possibly
harm U.S. agriculture resources.
Human Detector Dogs - These
dogs are used to detect concealed persons attempting to enter the United
BORSTAR Canines - Border Patrol
Search, Trauma, and Rescue Teams are highly specialized units capable of
responding to emergency search and rescue situations in the United States.
The dogs are trained to search off leash and perform a recall-re-find indication,
which has the dog return to the handler after finding missing persons and
leading the handler to the location.
Narcotics Detector Dogs - These
dogs are used in the detection of narcotics, such as marijuana, hashish,
heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.
Three training facilities
support the canine force. The Canine Enforcement Training Center, in Front
Royal, Virginia, was established in 1974 (CBP Customs). The National Canine
Facility, in El Paso, Texas, was established in 1991 (CBP Border Patrol
and INS) and the National Detector Dog Training Center in Orlando, Florida,
was established in 1997 (CBP Agriculture).
The predominant canine chosen
for the program are from the sports breeds. A variety of dogs are used
including Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, Belgian Malinois, German
Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, English Beagle, and mixed breeds. The most
important factor in selecting detector dogs for training is not the breed,
but their personality and extent of enthusiasm the dog displays toward
retrieving a given object.
The majority of dogs selected
for the program are obtained from animal shelters, humane societies and
rescue leagues. However, in September 1998, a breeding program was established
to provide additional detector dogs to the program. Currently, CBP has
produced 104 puppies in 17 litters.
At our borders and checkpoints
a dog can examine a vehicle in 5 to 6 minutes. Even a cursory search by
an officer would require at least 20 minutes. These dogs are also able
to check packages in a fraction of the time needed by mail examiners saving
time, money, and people.
For more information on the
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Canine Enforcement Program, visit our
web site at www.cbp.gov, click on the
enforcement block, top right, and then on canines.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
(CBP) is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged
with the protection of our nation’s borders. CBP unified Customs, Immigration,
and Agriculture Inspectors and the Border Patrol into one border agency
for the United States.