APHIS’ National Detector Dog Training Center (the Center) trains specially selected dogs and their human handlers to perform a vital task for our country—safeguarding America’s agricultural and natural resources from harmful pests and diseases. After graduating from training, these highly effective teams inspect passenger baggage, cargo, and parcels to detect prohibited agricultural items that could carry foreign plant pests or animal diseases into our country. If these threats were to enter the United States, they could seriously harm our country’s food crops, forests, farms, and environment—and the livelihoods of America’s farmers and ranchers.
The Center primarily trains dogs—mostly beagles—to detect fruits, vegetables, and meats in international passenger baggage, mailed packages, and vehicles entering the United States. They train other types of dogs to work in the field. For example, the Center trains Jack Russell terriers to stop brown treesnakes—which have caused the extinction of several bird species in Guam—from reaching Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan. The Center also trains Labrador retrievers to detect nutria, an invasive rodent that destroys wetlands on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
APHIS’ Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program runs the Center, which started in 1984 with just one dog and one trainer. Today, it is located in Newnan, GA, on 17 acres with 8 buildings and 100 kennels.
We seeks dogs that are 1 to 3 years of age from animal shelters, rescue groups, and private owners. The dogs must be friendly and bold; have a high food drive; and be healthy. We test recruited dogs in a real inspection environment to expose them to the sights, sounds, smells, surfaces, and equipment they would encounter there. The dogs also receive a physical exam from a veterinarian. If the dog recruits pass our screening process, they begin training.
Most of the canines we recruit make good detector dogs. On average, 75 percent of the dogs we train finish the program successfully. If a dog does not complete the training program, we make sure he or she is adopted to a good home.
Our training programs last up to 13 weeks and offer a chance for a detector dog and handler to bond and gain mutual confidence and trust. Through daily training, dogs and their handlers develop a close relationship—to the point that the handler is aware of even slight changes in the dog’s behavior. Enrichment opportunities, such as play time at our onsite agility center, further ensure the detector dog’s well-being.
We use positive reinforcement to train the dogs to detect and signal if they find items of agricultural concern (for example, fruit, pork, or beef) in suitcases, vehicles, and cargo packages. Dogs learn to associate a reward with the specific odor they are expected to find. The training is simple in the beginning so it is easy for the dog to be successful. Then our Training Specialists gradually increase the difficulty and complexity of the training until the dog can detect the target odors in an actual inspection environment.
Upon successful graduation from the training program, detector dogs will work until they are about 9 years old.
During their careers, the dogs will learn many other odors of agricultural significance. Using their keen sense of smell, these dogs can accurately detect hidden prohibited or restricted agricultural products in passenger baggage, cargo, or parcels with success rates of more than 85 percent.
To be successful, our detector dogs must be happy. That’s why their canine handlers continue to hone their dogs’ skills after graduation and ensure their general well-being while safeguarding American agriculture and at play.
The Center trains a variety of breeds because some breeds are better suited to certain tasks. Our graduates include:
Beagles and beagle mixes are primarily used in airports to inspect luggage and other items coming in from other countries and non-contiguous states. They are trained to detect prohibited items such as meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Labradors are also mainly work in cargo, parcel, and vehicle inspection areas at our land border entry points, airports, and maritime ports of entry. Some Labrador retrievers are trained to detect nutria, an invasive rodent that destroys wetlands on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They have also recently been trained to detect coconut rhinoceros beetle, an invasive pest that destroys coconut palms in Hawaii, Guam and the American Samoa.
We train Jack Russell terriers to find brown treesnakes in aircraft, vehicles, household goods, and ships leaving Guam for areas like Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan. Brown treesnakes have led to the extinction of several native bird species in Guam.
After graduating from the Center, our highly trained dogs and their handlers go to work for PPQ, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, State departments of agriculture, county agricultural commissioner’s offices, and foreign agriculture ministries. They will work in airport terminals and warehouses, sea ports, mail facilities, and in the field.
A successful detector dog can have a career that spans 6 to 8 years, or up to the mandatory retirement age of nine. Upon retirement, some dogs live with their last handler as a personal pet. Otherwise, the Center will offer the dog for adoption. When dogs do not meet our training requirements, we offer them for adoption as well.
Are you interested in adopting or donating a dog to the National Detector Dog Training Center?
The Center offers dogs for adoption. They either retired from service or did not meet our rigorous training requirements but would make wonderful pets. All adopted dogs are spayed or neutered and have current vaccinations. In some instances, you don’t need to live close to the Center to adopt.
If you would like to adopt a dog, please contact us at 1 (877) 797-3899 or email@example.com. We will let you know if we have available dogs and explain how to complete an adoption application. If we don’t have available dogs, we will place you on our waiting list and notify you when we find a perfect match.
The Center accepts dogs from animal shelters, rescue groups and private donations. Many of the dogs we bring into the program for training would have otherwise been euthanized. Several organizations have recognized the National Detector Dog Training Center for its work rescuing dogs and giving them a second chance.
If you would like to donate a dog, please contact us at 1 (877) 797-3899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Detector Dog Training Center
360 International Park
Newnan, GA 30265
Phone: Toll-free: 1 (844) 876-3755, or (770) 304-7925
The Center is not open to the public. People who wish to visit our dogs must first contact us to schedule an appointment.