Beagle boot camp: learning to sniff out contraband
November 27, 1997
The dogs are trained to sit when they smell
Web posted at: 9:31 a.m. EST (1431 GMT)
ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- Don't be surprised if you meet a
green-clad dog sniffing out your luggage when entering the
United States at an airport. The dog is part of the Beagle
Brigade, which is helping the U.S. Department of Agriculture
prevent an influx of dangerous diseases.
But before a beagle is allowed to wear the bright green
uniform, it has to undergo strict training -- in other words,
They don't bite and they may look cute. But it can be a dog's
life until a beagle finally gets the green light to join the
hundreds of agricultural inspectors as the nation's first
line of defense against costly animal and plant pests and
Beagle gets cozy with the camera
Qualified USDA sniffers like Daisy, who works at an
international airport in Florida, nose around the luggage of
incoming travelers. They are trained to ignore most odors,
but sit down when they get a whiff of fruits, meats or other
They are able to detect such odors through layers of clothes,
plastics and bags. Beagles like Daisy are increasingly being
used at U.S. international airports.
And that's where Freddy may work one day, too. Freddy is a
new recruit at the Beagle Brigade's national training center
There, beginners learn the ropes of how to sniff out
contraband. The beagle faces a number of boxes, bags and
suitcases and has to sniff out where exactly the prohibited
fruits, plants and meats have been hidden by the instructors.
( 111K/9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Will Freddy make it?
"Uh, we don't know at this stage ... We're working on it,"
said his handler.
Every dog that shows promise is assigned to an inspector, and
they become a team.
"They make good partners," said USDA officer Melanie Smylie
about her new partner, Zoey.
Once the team passes muster at boot camp, the real test
comes: a visit to the airport.
After two years of on-the-job experience, USDA-trained
beagles can sniff out prohibited material correctly 90
percent of the time. A Beagle Brigade dog's career spans
about six years.
"The dogs may go through 12 weeks of training with the
students and when they get to the airport they may go totally
berserk or have something scare them at the airport," said
instructor Michael Smith. "It could be luggage falling over
and (the dog could) totally lose it and not want to work
All Beagle Brigade candidates are donated by private owners
and breeders, or are selected from animal shelters. Beagle
Baxter, for instance, was on death row. "He had heart worms
and basically this dog would have been euthanized if we had
not adopted him," a USDA officer said.
The USDA uses beagles because they are raised in packs and
normally remain calm in crowded and noisy locations such as
busy baggage-claim areas. Beagles also have an acute sense of
smell and a gentle nature. Plus, their natural love of food
makes them effective detectives and happy to work for treats.
"Our dogs work for food, that is their salary," instructor
Sandy Seward said.
( 77K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Only about half of the beagle boot camp recruits eventually
qualify and are allowed to wear the official green uniform,
which reads "Protecting American Agriculture" on one side and
"Agriculture's Beagle Brigade" on the other.
When a dog is retired, his or her last partner has the option
of keeping the dog as a pet. If the USDA officer does not
keep the dog, it will go to a suitable home. That's the case,
too, for dogs who fail the training program.
As for Freddy, the latest CNN heard was that he is still in
boot camp. Maybe he'll be sniffing you at an airport some
Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.