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Cute little detector dog.
Cute little detector dog.
David finds out how it all works.

Detector Dogs

Thursday, November 15, 2001
Rest assured, quarantine matters are in safe hands with our airport detector dogs … and they're so damn cute!

Airport detectors dogs are trained to sniff out more than 30 different items of quarantine concern.

In any month, a detector dog team at an airport could be expected to intercept around 33kg of fresh fruit, 9kg of meat, as well as plant material and eggs.

In one shift — which is four to six hours of sniffing time — each team will seize five to 10 items.

On average, there are seven seizures per 1000 passengers, with four out of every five items seized being undeclared!

Beagles were chosen by AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) as the most suitable breed for the "friendly" image needed for detector dogs working around the public at international airports.

The chosen dogs come from many backgrounds, including animal shelters and private homes. They have an extraordinary sense of smell, said to be at least 100 times more accurate than our own.

The dogs are trained simply to sit when they detect a target odour, and await their food reward from their handler.

Sydney Airport has nine teams of dogs, Melbourne has five, Brisbane six, Cairns and Perth have three each, Darwin has two and Adelaide one.

The dogs' passive response training entails placing a target odour (such as an apple) in a cardboard box and encouraging the dog to sniff it. When the dog sits, it is rewarded with food. So it doesn't take long for the beagle to learn to associate the three things — odour, sit and reward!


The dogs are trained to detect:
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Fresh and processed meat
  • Plant material
  • Eggs
  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Bees

  • Cakes, chocolate, honey, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs are not targeted by the quarantine dogs.

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