Detector Dogs

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) detector dogs play a vital role in helping to protect Australia from exotic pests and diseases and are used in conjunction with a number of other biosecurity strategies and detection technologies.  DAFF detector dog teams are deployed at airports, seaports, mail centres and private courier depots throughout Australia.

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Resources

DAFF has over 70 detector dogs, comprising:

  • Active detector dogs
    These dogs are trained to dig at the source of target odour. They are rewarded with food or a game of tug-of-war when they find biosecurity risk material. Active detector dogs mainly work at mail centres and private courier depots.
  • Passive response detector dogs
    These dogs are trained to sit in the presence of target odour. They are rewarded with food from their handler when they find biosecurity risk material. Passive response detector dogs generally work among the public in airports and seaports.
  • Multipurpose detector dogs
    These dogs are trained to deliver the appropriate response in the environment in which they are operating. At an airport or seaport, they will sit beside a passenger or baggage. When scanning objects in mail centres and private courier depots they will dig at the source of target odour.

A brief history

  • 1991: Australia contracts a detector dog trainer from the US Department of Agriculture to help develop a pilot program in Australia.
  • 1992: In February the first two detector dog teams became operational in Sydney and Brisbane.
  • 1995: DAFF detector dog operations were expanded by introducing active response dogs into international mail centres.
  • 2002: After ten years of operation the program had expanded to 26 teams including six teams undertaking state government biosecurity work.
  • 2009: Labradors were introduced into airport and seaport operations. Until this time only Beagles were used as passive response detector dogs in these environments.
  • 2011: Based on the success of a pilot program conducted in Brisbane, conversion of passive response Labradors to multipurpose dogs commenced.
  • 2012: DAFF celebrates twenty years of detector dogs as a part of a smart, integrated biosecurity system in Australia.

Target odours

DAFF detector dogs are generally trained to detect the following target commodity groups:

  • fresh plant material
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • eggs
  • all meat products (excluding fish)
  • seed
  • cheese
  • bees
  • soil.

Where does DAFF source trainee detector dogs from?

DAFF sources suitable Labradors for training from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service National Detector Dog Breeding program.

Labradors have an extraordinary sense of smell, are co-operative and gentle with people and possess extreme hunt, food and retrieve drives.

Initial training takes place over 13 weeks after which dogs are deployed into the operational environment. Ongoing training forms part of the detector dogs’ daily routine to continually improve their capability.

Last reviewed:
20 Jun 2013