Detector dogs

They are used to help stop illegal drugs and cash being smuggled into the country.

What do they do?

Customs' detector dogs are adaptable. We use them to search for drugs or cash concealed in objects like freight, cargo, packages, mail and luggage; and in locations such as airports, aircraft, warehouses, and ships. Sometimes we use them to search private homes and vehicles on Customs and Police search warrants.

The dog regards searching for drugs and cash as a game. When the dog locates the drugs or cash it is always rewarded – perhaps with its favourite toy. The dog only receives a reward when it locates the odours it has been trained to detect.

Where do they work?

You'll find detector dogs and their handlers wherever people, goods and mail enter or leave New Zealand. It’s their keen sense of smell and retrieval instincts that make them so useful for this type of border security work.

Drug detector dog teams work mostly at international airports throughout the country. They also work at the International Mail Centre and they regularly search ships, small craft and cargo.

Sometimes we lend them to the Police or other government departments whenever they need a good dog to sniff something out for them.

When they’re not working, the dogs are generally kennelled at home with their handlers.

Drug-detector dogs

Dogs who specialise in detecting drugs have been very successful since they became a permanent part of the New Zealand Customs Service in 1976.

They are trained to detect a wide variety of illegal drugs. These include, cocaine, heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), amphetamine, methamphetamine, cannabis and precursors used to manufacture crystal methamphetamine or "P".

The dogs themselves never come into contact with the drugs and never become addicted to them.

Detector dog handlers

To become a Customs detector dog handler, you first need to join the New Zealand Customs Service and gain experience as a Customs officer.

You can only apply to become a detector dog handler after gaining experience within the various operational areas of Customs.

If you’re interested in becoming a Customs officer you can get some more information at careers.​