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1 Australian Customs and Border Protection Service — Detector Dog Program

Summary

The development and application of a scientifically based method of selective breeding for needed traits in detector dogs has enabled the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs and Border Protection) to overcome the severe limitations of the opportunistic method of obtaining detector dogs which had previously been used. The success of the program has not only enabled Customs and Border Protection to make more extensive use of detector dogs in its operations, with associated benefits in terms of drug seizures in particular, but also delivered further national benefits from the provision of dogs to other Australian agencies and the capacity to supply both animals and expertise to counterpart agencies in a number of other countries.

Customs and Border Protection began using detector dogs in 1969 and, in light of the support for use of detector dogs from the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs, Customs and Border Protection moved to establish a Detector Dog Training Centre in 1979, with dogs being recruited from a combination of commercial breeders, animal shelters and public donation. However, this approach did not provide a sound basis for supplying dogs suitable for training — the success rate being 1 in a 1000 from the general population.

In seeking to address this issue, the management of the Centre established that no breeding and development model existed anywhere in the world that would meet the key requirements of a guaranteed supply of dogs suited to detection work for known cost. The Centre therefore established a collaborative research partnership with the Royal Guide Dogs Association and the University of Melbourne under which a doctoral investigation of genetic and environmental influences upon key detector dog traits was undertaken. A pilot breeding and development program for 54 dogs was undertaken by Customs and Border Protection as part of this research.

Based on the outcome of the research program, notably the selection rates of 24 per cent for dogs involved in the pilot program, Customs and Border Protection built the National Breeding and Development Centre (NBDC) for production of 40 dogs per year. The NBDC has built on its initial success, with over 1800 dogs having now been bred and retention rates for breeding/detector placement have increased to around 75 per cent.

The NBDC was also able to refine its developmental training to produce multi-response dogs for searching both cargo and people, which has led to greater levels of productivity and flexibility in deployment as the one detector dog can operate across the full array of border environments. The program has also been expanded from narcotics detection to encompass chemical precursors/explosives and firearms.

The capability provided by the NBDC is not only utilised by Customs and Border Protection. It played an important role in providing dogs for explosives detection at the Sydney Olympics and now provides dogs to the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and State and Territory Police and correctional services.

The innovative approach of the NBDC has also delivered foreign relations benefits to Australia. A recognised world class breeding and training program initially led to close cooperative links with a number of US Government agencies and the provision of both animals and genetic material. Similar cooperative links have since been developed with a range of other countries and detector dogs and puppies have now been supplied to China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. The NBDC continues to mentor the partner breeding colonies established abroad.

Relevant chronology

1969 — Customs and Border Protection began using detector dogs;

1973 — Royal Guide Dogs Association of Australia (RGDAA) and Melbourne University started a PhD research project for scientific breeding of guide dogs, which showed benefits of selective breeding and puppy walking program;

1979 — Customs and Border Protection established Detector Dog Training Centre in response to Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs, which concluded that detector dogs were integral to Customs and Border Protection drug law enforcement and recommended expanded use. John Vandeloo joined Customs and Border Protection as a detector dog handler;

1980 onwards — significant difficulties experienced in finding an adequate supply of suitable dogs;

1981 — John Vandeloo promoted to instructor at the Detector Dog Training Centre in Canberra;

1983 — John Vandeloo promoted to Chief Instructor;

1990 onwards — increased volume of work increased supply problems. Customs and Border Protection-recruited and trained detector dogs from breeding population of dogs maintained by RGDAA;

1992 — John Vandeloo, National Breeding Manager for the Customs Detector Dog Unit, initiated discussions with Brian Ritter, RGDAA and they subsequently approached Professor Rolf Beilharz at University of Melbourne;

1993 — Customs and Border Protection and RGDAA funded a Special Postgraduate Studentship for a PhD student, Kathryn Champness, to undertake a research program based on the labrador breed because of its focus, versatility, temperament and hunt and retrieve drives;

Early 1993 — commenced three-year pilot breeding detector dog program focussing on narcotics at Customs National Breeding and Development Centre, Melbourne;

June 1996 — Kathryn Champness completed PhD thesis on Development of a Breeding Program for Drug Detector Dogs. Her research showed that a reliable and high quality supply of detector dogs could be produced by establishing a selective breeding program and further enhanced by a suitable rearing environment. Kathryn acknowledged John Vandeloo as the driving force behind the research and the trial Customs Breeding and Rearing program;

1996 — full breeding program initiated together with a puppy foster care scheme;

1998 — first dogs sent to USA and US Customs Service commenced its own breeding program based on the Australian model; John Vandeloo awarded a Public Service Medal for his work;

October 2000 — two further breeding sub colonies comprising 16 dogs presented to US Department of Defence, Transport Security Administration and Auburn University’s Institute for Biological Detection Systems;

September 2001 — following the terrorist attack in the USA greater attention given to counter-terrorism issues;

February 2002 — further 30 puppies sent to USA for training by US Customs Service; Transport Security Administration and Institute of Biological Detection Systems;

2003 — training expanded to encompass firearms, ammunition, explosives and chemical precursors and produce Firearms/Explosives Detector Dogs (FEDD);

2004 — program commended in Institute of Public Administration Australia Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management;

July 2005 — five Chinese Customs officers trained in Australia;

July 2006 — birth of 1000th detector dog puppy;

September 2006 — first detector dogs and puppies donated to China Customs; and

2009 — Customs and Border Protection now provide dogs for the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and State and Territory Police and correctional services. Puppies and trained detector dogs have also been supplied to 14 countries, including USA, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan, as well as the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian De-mining.

Key observations from case study

Major innovations

Customs and Border Protection moved from an opportunistic method of obtaining detector dogs with a significant rejection rate to a scientifically based method of selective breeding for needed traits with a high success rate. The breeding program was adapted to move from narcotics detection to multi-purpose detection including firearms and explosives. Customs and Border Protection now has a world class breeding and training program and has provided assistance to both domestic agencies and a number of overseas countries.

Observations and lessons learned

  • Innovation prompted by a problem — An inadequate supply of appropriate dogs for training as Customs Detector Dogs required a new approach to be taken;
  • Built on previous experience — Royal Guide Dogs Association of Australia guide dog breeding and rearing program and an earlier PhD study of behavioural characteristics provided a proven basis from which to work;
  • Fostered by established networks of cooperation — contacts between Customs and Border Protection, Royal Guide Dogs Association of Australia and University of Melbourne facilitated a cooperative and collaborative approach to evaluating the potential of selective breeding;
  • Business case based on scientific evidence — the PhD study undertaken by Kathryn Champness through the University of Melbourne showed that desired traits could be enhanced through selective breeding;
  • Importance of an innovation champion — John Vandeloo saw the need for more, and better, detector dogs and opportunity offered by a selective breeding program and pushed forward with the University of Melbourne trial despite some scepticism within Customs and Border Protection;
  • Organisational responsiveness — once proven by the PhD study, Customs and Border Protection quickly supported full implementation of the selective breeding and puppy raising program at its National Breeding and Development Centre;
  • Adaptation, improvement and building on success — in response to the changing security environment the breeding program was expanded to include firearms and explosives detection dogs. Detection capability was supported by a proficiency maintenance and competency program for both dogs and handlers;
  • Leveraging comparative advantage — domestic and international recognition of the world-class breeding program and cooperation has strengthened domestic and overseas detector dog programs and brought broader strategic benefits to Australia; and
  • Recognition and rewards — the nomination and the 1998 award of a Public Service Medal to John Vandeloo for his work with the detector dogs program provided high-level recognition and encouragement to John and his team.

 

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