When you look at a beagle, you may see a rabbit dog, but there is far more to the breed than their natural inclination to chase bunnies. Beagles are actually used in a workplace setting, punching the time clock just like the rest of us. They are known as Agriculture Canines and they work for the United States Customs & Border Protection (CBP).
While human and dog pairings in the workplace have been around for ages with many breeds participating, it is the beagle in particular that primarily serves as a detector dog during Customs screenings. Their job is to use their noses to sniff out things that should not be entering the United States. To do this, they screen passengers themselves as well as luggage and cargo as a means to get a whiff of unwelcome goods. Specifically they search with the goal of preventing harmful pests and diseases from making their way onto United States soil via animal byproducts, fruit, meat, and vegetables.
Since the beagle has such a keen sense of smell, they are perfect for a job in which a good nose is the primary requirement. The ability to smell extremely well is very important because people try to hide items in luggage, wrapping them in plastic, placing them in containers, and so on as a means to fool dogs. It is tough to fool a beagle, however, especially one who has been extensively trained to target specific odors. With its 220 million scent receptors, the beagle nose knows!
Photo: Airline Reporter
The use of detector dogs is invaluable because of the time saved on manpower. In mere seconds, a beagle can scan a piece of luggage and move onto the next whereas a human may take several minutes to manually search. In order to be a successful detector dog, beagles must have a natural desire to work, but thorough training is also part of the program. Canine officers are paired with human partners and the must successfully endure 10-13 weeks of CBP Agriculture Specialist Canine Training at the USDA National Detector Dog Training Center. During this time, they are trained to scan for target items and to alert their handlers via physical indication as to whether or not something is present. When beagles find an item, they sit or use a paw to inform the handler. If nothing is present, they simply move on and continue searching. Throughout all of this, they work for positive reinforcement and praise with a few treats to keep morale high.
The Beagle Brigade as they are known come in large part from shelters and/or private donation and sometimes includes mixed breeds in addition to purebreds. Beagles are chosen for this line of work due to their excellent sense of smell in addition to the fact that they are calm and gentle as well as non-threatening to travelers and highly trainable. In some cases, larger breeds are used for scans in non-public areas, but it is the beagle that greets you at the gate with a nose waiting to get to work. All in all, there are currently 116 canine and handler teams working in this field at facilities such as air passenger terminals, border crossings, cargo warehouses, cruise terminals, and mail facilities.
In addition to providing a valuable service, beagles are able to serve as the public face of a tough but necessary job. Although some may lament the need to pass through Customs and be inspected, having a furry face and wagging tail present makes the process easier to endure. When it comes to good senses in a small, friendly package, the beagle is the dog to call. If you're willing to pay them in scratches and treats, they will always be willing to go to work.
Have you ever come across a customs beagle when he or she was hard at work protecting our country? Did you have visions of them chasing rabbits instead? Let us know in the comments.