In 1984, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established their first detector dog program at the Los Angeles International Airport. This was the beginning of the Beagle Brigade. It consisted of one human canine officer and one beagle trained to sniff all luggage and carry-on items arriving on international flights and detect any plants or animal products contained within. Beagles were selected as the breed of choice mainly for their acute sense of smell, their non-threatening size and their gentle behavior with humans.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection detector dogs and their human partners work to keep our borders safe from harmful foreign plant and animal disease
As of 2010 there were more than 60 Beagle Brigade teams at 21 international airports in the United States. A beagles sense of smell is so keen they can detect smells that are too faint for scientific equipment to detect. The Beagle Brigade has a 90% success rate, averaging 75,000 seizures of prohibited food and animal products each year. Larger breeds of dogs work away from the public in cargo areas, their size can be intimidating and menacing to passengers. Beagles generally work at the baggage-claim area of an airport checking each piece of luggage before it gets whisked away.
Nothing gets past the beagle!
Beagles have the ability to distinguish smells. Some smells are restricted items, some are not. A beagle knows the difference and alerts the handler when a restricted item is detected. The handler will speak with the owner of the bag then open the bag for inspection.
This beagle has identified a piece of luggage containing contraband at Washington Dulles Airport
Beagle finds contraband
This beagle is posing in front of the sign advising commuters of their responsibilities and warning them of the consequences.
There are rules!
When a beagle sits...you're busted!
Beagle Brigade Training
All beagles must attend a 10-13 week training course at the National Detector Dog Training Center (NDDTC) near Atlanta, Georgia. The dogs are adopted from rescue centers, humane societies and donated by private citizens from all over the country. At the NDDTC the dogs will meet their handlers, they will train together and will be assigned to an airport as a team.
Before being accepted into the training class, each dog must be cleared through a complete examination by a veterinarian and pass a temperament evaluation. If any dog falls short of the requirements, an adoptive home will be found for them.
Under the authority of Homeland Security, a Beagle Brigade dog's career usually lasts six to ten years. Upon retiring, the dog in most cases is adopted by its handler. If that is not possible, the NDDTC ensures that the dog is placed in a good home.
Some dogs are trained to detect specific scents. For instance, Thunder can sniff out the Asian Longhorned Beetle, or even more precisely, the sawdust that remains when the beetle chews something. Now that's impressive!