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Some dogs at the customs administration are also from the shelter // Humans of NATO Days

30.04.2023, 18:50

They look for drugs, weapons, cigarettes and tobacco. We are talking about canine colleagues of members of the Customs Administration of the Czech Republic. How long does their training take? What is the easiest to find and what is the reward? And how to get a job as a training cynologist? Where do customs administration dogs come from? These questions were answered by 2Lt. Martin Kobrč, head of the Service Cynology Training Facility of the Customs Administration of the Czech Republic in Heřmanice in Liberecko.

How did you get this job?
As a basic service soldier, I served in Grabštejn, where I was assigned as a dog handler in the army. Thanks to this, I subsequently worked for the Prison Service for nine years as a defence dog handler, then as a drug detection dog handler, and worked my way up to the leader of the dog handler team. Then I was offered a job at the Service Canine Training Facility of the Customs Administration, where I joined as a service dog training instructor and after the retirement of the former boss, I became the manager.

How long does it take to train such dog?
From the moment we get a dog and it passes all health tests, a test of character traits and we find that the given animal is suitable for our purposes, the training itself takes 15 weeks from the time of inclusion in the course.

Where do service dogs come from? How do you find them?
It is often bought from people who sell dogs. Sometimes we also receive a dog that becomes unnecessary, unsuitable for someone, or the owner cannot handle it. So wherever possible. Some of the dogs that were included in the customs administration also come from the shelter. That is, either by donation or purchase.

What about your dog specifically? How did he get involved with customs and how long have you been working with him?
I have a four-year-old dog and I have been working with him for four years. Because I took the dog from a puppy, and subsequently sold it to the Customs Administration.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. What is the ideal age for a dog to work with you?
It is ideal to start playing with the dog as a puppy, but that is not always possible. We buy older dogs in order to check their health and temperament. This can only be done around one year of age, when the animal is fully developed in terms of skeleton and internal organs. At the Customs Administration of the Czech Republic, training therefore starts when they are around one year.


Read also interviews with other people participating at NATO Days

Which commodities can the dog find?
He can find anything we teach him. However, the customs administration is mainly interested in commodities such as narcotic and psychotropic substances or drugs, weapons, and other commodities are cigarettes and tobacco. Our dogs can also search for banknotes, CITES products, which are international conventions for the protection of animals and plants. Some of our dogs can even seek out alcohol, so there's a lot of it. I hope I haven't forgotten anything.

Does weather affect how well a dog can track?
The weather has a big influence on how the smell spreads. The speed and direction of the wind, but also air pressure, air humidity, all of this has an effect on the spread of the smell. Of course, another thing that affects odour spread is the volume of the target we're looking for and how it's packaged or stored. All this plays a role and can make it difficult for the dog to work, search and find items of interest. 

How old a track can a dog find?
Customs dogs typically aren't looking for something that was somewhere, but something that's still there. However, the longer it is there, the more the smell spreads from it to the surroundings, and the easier it is for the dog to find it.

Which of the commodities you are looking for is the hardest to find?
I'll turn it around, the easiest from a human point of view is to find something that is very aromatic. But no one asked the dogs, and probably never will, how they see or feel it. If tobacco is as aromatic for them as it is for us, or if they have it somehow differently. So, it’s hard to say if something is more interesting for them than for us. I won't give you an exact answer to that.

What rewards do dogs get for their work?
The reward for the dog is food, various treats or a favourite toy. It can be a balloon, a plastic ring. It is so that the dog himself determines what is the greatest reward for him. For one, it's that I throw him a balloon and he happily runs around with it, for another it can be that I wrestle with him about something. It's just determined by the dog.

And is the method of remuneration different during training and during the event?
During an event, it is a bit more complicated, because when the dog marks something, the handler does not immediately know if there is something there, or if the dog is confused. So first he has to check if the dog marked it correctly, and only then can he reward him.
 

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