January 8, 2010

A Doggone Issue... Use of Detector Dogs & The Travelling Public

Airport security has been in the news a LOT lately. Firstly, there was the failed attempted bombing of NWA Flight 253 on Christmas Day, by a guy who's come to be known as the "Pantsbomber".

Then we had the at-first amusing but then plain scary "TSA-fail" saga which dragged Flying With Fish's Steve & Elliot.Org's Chris into the spotlight after the Department of Homeland Security issued them with subpoenas for posting copies of a TSA-issued security directive on their blogs. The motivation of their postings? To clear up confusion for travellers in the midst of some truly confusing and strange new 'rules' brought about after "Pantsbomber" failed at his mission.

What has followed has ranged from tightening of security procedures at some airports, to what can only be described as 'knee-jerk reactions' at others. In the renewed debate about what is 'acceptable' in security matters, the use of detector dogs seems to have hit a nerve with some, as mentioned by Bobby from Up, Up And A Gay.

The use of detector dogs has been a regular occurence in Australian airports for quite some years. (First in the late 60's in fact). Both Customs and Quarantine use the dogs throughout Australian airports for passenger screening. Dogs are used to detect such items as drugs, prohibited food items and explosives. The breeds used are generally Beagles for Quarantine, and labradors/retrievers for Customs.

More threatening dogs such as German Shepherds tend to be reserved for the defence forces, police or Customs enforcement work (i.e. outside airports when apprehension of suspects may be needed)

There's a really great show on tv here, which is very popular with the public, called Border Security. It has been a great PR exercise for the agencies featured, not only because it reassures the public about what goes on in airports and what to expect wwhen travelling, but also because it can act as a deterrent to those who think smuggling illegal items into or out of Australia would be easy.

Australia has some of the toughest Quarantine & Customs laws in the world, and rightly so, because thus far the country has remained relatively free of pests and diseases that plague the rest of the world.

Dogs are also used for explosives detection, but for obvious reasons I'm not going to go into too much detail about them. Suffice to say they are there and they are at work.

As the officer says on tv, if you have nothing on you, you have nothing to worry about. I regularly encounter both Customs and Quarantine dogs in the course of my travels. They are always very friendly, the handlers generally leave you alone and don't engage in conversation unless something is found, and the dog will usually move on after a brief "sniff" if there's nothing of interest. I'd hardly call the procedure "Invasive", and dogs don't sniff your private areas like some think they do. Here's two great clips from Border Security which show just how these dogs go about their daily business. As you can see with the Frenchman, the dog sits in front of him and never actually touches him when 'sniffing'.

Dog reacts to passenger, prompting secondary searching, but nothing is found, so no worries for her!

In my opinion, anything which adds an extra layer of security protection to air travel is a good thing, and as you can see, when handled correctly, dogs are a great tool in the fight against illegal activity in airports. If you're travelling through an airport, and are approached by a dog- stay calm, let it sniff you, leave your bag alone if it's on the ground, and don't touch the dog. If you need to do anything else, the handler will tell you.

The training Australian dogs receive is so good, that other countries are even asking for dogs to be trained for their own operations, and have been assisted by the Queen herself!

If you have any questions on airport security, or travelling to/in Australia, just leave a comment below.

Puppies: The Age.com.au
Airport Lines: PerthAirport.com.au
Handler & Dog: Customs.gov.au


  1. I would highly prefer sniffing dogs over the other types of security. Unlike people, dogs do not discriminate or screen passengers on age, sex, race or religion. A person is a person to the dog. They are incredible at judging the intent of people entirely by watching their face and body. I truly wish they would consider using them here in Canada instead of purchasing full body scanners left and right. I personally would rather be sniffed by a dog than walk through a full body scanner any day.

    I own a hound myself and know first hand just how good they are and sniffing things out of closed bags and closed bins. By the way, great article. Always interesting to read about security in Australia!

  2. It was twenty years ago next month that I first saw dogs sniffing bags in an airport. So it's now new.

    I was in Honolulu, and actually on my way to Sydney.

  3. Aveldina, you make some great points. As you say, a person is jusst a person to a dog. It's the behaviour that they watch. For the money for one scanner, I'd love to know how many dogs they could get. They could also use dogs in places wheree scanners aren't practical- and dogs are portable!

    Fin, you're right, they're not new. Australian Customs (according to their site) first trained dogs in the late 1960's. Dop you recall seeing any in Sydney on arriving?

  4. Nope. First time I arrived in SYD I was quarantined cuz my destination was Auckland and I had no visa.

    Looked out the window for the bridge and opera house, and saw..........a pizza hut.


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