Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: January 20, 2024

For Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) detector dogs, every day is a game.

The dogs play an important part in curbing the flow of drugs, weapons and currency across the border. There were more than 25,000 detector dog searches at border crossings across Canada last year.

They’re one of the CBSA’s most reliable tool, officer Kyle Hardy says, because of their mobility: Anywhere it’s safe for a dog, they can work. But the dogs don’t view it as work: Because their training is reward-based, they see it more as a game, Hardy says.

Hardy is a CBSA veteran of 25 years, and with 18-month-old Bear forms a detector dog team based in Windsor — where the CBSA’s detector dog program actually started in 1978 before it was rolled out across Canada.

He spoke to Afternoon Drive’s Travis Dolynny about the program, Bear’s training and what it takes to make a good detector dog.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

So what can you tell us about the detector dog that you’re working with now?

Well my partner, the detector dog I have now, his name is Bear. He is an 18-month-old male German shorthair pointer and Labrador retriever mix. Very energetic, loves the game.

Alright, what’s your relationship like with Bear?

It’s very intense, one-on-one with with Bear. I just returned with him in May. So he’s a young dog. I’m learning his behaviour and just as much, he’s learning my behaviour.

Now, does Bear stay with you all the time or do you come and go during the day?

Bear is with me all the time. He’s with me at work here, which is play for him, and then when we go home he’s with me as well.

So what kinds of dogs typically become detector dogs?

Well, we look at a number of different breeds. They come to us from all different areas — sometimes from breeders, sometimes from rescues, sometimes from houses where people have them as a family pet.

They’re the highly energetic dogs, playful dogs that somebody says, ‘hey, maybe this dog needs a job and needs to be out there having fun all day.’

The dogs are with us for the full shift and that could be eight, 10, 12 hours sometimes, where we’re just playing hide-and-seek with the dog. We look for the energetic dogs that are good in all environments, confident dogs that have a great temperament, that are very good to work around people and to basically play the game in any environment.

What kind of training do they have to go through?

When we acquire the dog, it goes through some testing as far as just to see if it has any fears or anything that it can’t overcome  — working on different surfaces, maybe jumping up on things to search, whatever.

When someone is selected to be a handler, they go to our training facility at Rigaud, Que., where our kennel is and where all our training takes place nationally. They’re placed with a dog or a dog is placed with the handler… They undergo a 10-week, pretty intensive training where they get to know each other and they get to practise what they’re going to be doing out in the field.

When we come back from that, the training continues throughout the dog’s career. It’s constant in the field with progressive training.

And what are they used to detect?

So we have categories: we have drug/firearm dogs, which is what Bear is. We also have food, plant and animal dogs that you may see in the airports for … invasive species or restricted goods that come in. And we also have dogs that are trained to detect currency.

How do they differentiate between different contraband?

Well, everything has its own unique smell and one of the reasons why we use detector dogs as a detection tool is that ability to pick out different odours. They have approximately 2,000 more scent receptors in their noses. We just introduce that into the sequence of play where the dog is trained on that specific odour. That’s what it goes out and it’s searching for, and that’s what it gets its rewards for indicating.

So is there something about these dogs that might surprise our listeners?

I think that they’ll be surprised at how efficient they are. Our day could take us anywhere. We could be searching the contents of a tractor trailer and then go right into searching a boat on the Detroit River or a plane at Windsor airport.

I’m curious, as a CBSA officer, why did you decide to pursue being a dog handler?

I started as an officer a number of years ago and I had the opportunity to work a lot with the handlers that were working here in Windsor. I thought that’s a position that I think would be very fulfilling and it’s a bit of a challenge because you have to train the dog … and you have to develop the tool and I was excited to take that on.

I put my name in the hat and went through the testing and the interviews and everything and I was successful. Never looked back.

So you said Bear was 18 months old. How long will you and Bear be together?

Typically our dogs work six to 10 years depending, so somewhere in there.

He’s still young in his career so I’m hoping for many years with him.